Investigation into deaths at Bedford Hospital after ‘medically fit’ patients caught Covid on site

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Bedford Hospital (Photo: Dr Robert Oakley)

Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust has admitted that ‘medically fit’ patients who were waiting to be discharged caught Covid-19 (coronavirus) on its wards.

Six potentially avoidable deaths are now being investigated where the infection was contracted on the hospital site.

A report in Thursday’s Health Service Journal (HSJ) said board papers from the Bedfordshire Hospitals Foundation Trust stated a “significant proportion of [its covid] cases [were] due to acquisition in the hospital.”

In the same article, the HSJ asserts that, “Substantial numbers of hospital-acquired covid infections have been reported across most acute trusts and many non-acute during the pandemic.”

The overriding reason given was a nationally recognised problem with Trusts unable to discharge patients as quickly as they would like to. Asymptomatic cases were also hard for the Trust to manage.

“Trusts nationwide have struggled to discharge patients as quickly as they wanted, the reasons including a Department of Health and Social Care mandate to only allow designated care homes to accept covid patients; the resumption of NHS Continuing Healthcare tests; shortages of community beds; and capacity in the care sector,” said the HSJ report.

At the board meeting, Cathy Jones, deputy chief executive at Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said the national directive encouraging rapid supported discharge from hospital this winter “had been very challenging” to implement.

She added that the “number of beds [created under the scheme] has not been the level we could have used in terms of supporting discharge”.

The board papers said: “A significant additional factor was the length of stay for many patients who were medically fit for discharge but were unable to return to their place of residence.

“Case reviews have shown that a number of these patients acquired infection while waiting appropriate and safe discharge.”

Every patient and staff member regularly and systematically tested

A Bedford Hospital spokesperson told the Bedford Independent: “The safety of our patients and staff is our main priority and we have strict infection prevention processes, social distancing measures and visiting restrictions in place to help keep everyone safe, while every patient and staff member is regularly tested.”

Bedford Hospital confirmed that since early in the pandemic, it has operated a full programme of patient and staff PCR testing, with every patient and staff member regularly and systematically tested.

Read: Technical glitch creates coronavirus report ‘death spike’ at Bedford Hospital

Throughout the pandemic, Bedford has recorded very high case numbers and therefore the higher the number of infections in the community, the more likely NHS staff and patients are to be affected by it.

Speaking at the trust’s board meeting this week, and reported in the HSJ, Paul Tisi, medical director at Bedford Hospital, said that some covid-related deaths were being reviewed by the trust’s serious incident process, including “two to three where” there appeared to have been a delayed discharge.

However, the HSJ said: “Board papers said its covid serious incident reviews covered “some deaths on both sites… and the majority [were] patients with very severe co-morbidity”.

“It said six out of 15 serious incidents being investigated at its Bedford hospital site were “of potentially avoidable nosocomial covid infection (hospital acquired).”

Information from Bedfordshire Hospitals shows that the total of hospital covid cases likely acquired there has dropped from a high of 38% in October to a low of 6% in January.

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