Royal Lancaster Infirmary faces A&E closure threat

A Lancashire hospital's A&E unit has a month to improve or risk closure, says the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

The threat comes after a surprise inspection by CQC at Royal Lancaster Infirmary found a corridor full of patients with just one nurse on duty.

The CQC was looking at care at the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust.

A statement from the trust said it had reviewed staffing levels since the inspection and it was working with CQC.

The commission has issued a formal warning to the hospital trust, saying it has until 16 March to improve care standards.

Its powers can range from suspending a department to cancelling it.

Hospital management is also being scrutinised by Monitor, the independent regulator for NHS foundation trusts.

Reviewed staffing levels

Debbie Westhead, North West regional lead for the CQC, said: "An unannounced inspection of the A&E department just before Christmas raised real concerns about staffing levels - staff themselves told our inspectors that these were 'at crisis level'."

She added: "I know local people will be worried by all the negative reports into this trust. But this demonstrates the level of scrutiny that the trust is under - and CQC and other bodies are using all this information to try and understand what the problems are and how they can be addressed so that people get better care."

The CQC inspection took place on 21 December and also studied staffing records.

Inspectors found that on one occasion, 11 patients had been waiting for more than the government target of four hours and five had been waiting up to six hours.

Tony Halsall, chief executive at University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust, said: "As a result of the CQC warning notice, we will be taking further steps to ensure that there are enough suitably qualified staff available at all times.

"However, since the CQC unannounced visit in December 2011, we have reviewed staffing levels across our hospitals to ensure that patients get seen as quickly as possible and are treated at the right time, in the right place."

Earlier this week, trust bosses were put on the spot by county councillors from Cumbria over 19,000 missed appointments in Lancaster and south Cumbria because of problems with an outpatient appointments system.

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