COLCHESTER Hospital's medical care services have been downgraded by the health inspectorate after officials found low morale across an overstretched workforce compromised levels of care provided to the elderly.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspected six medical care wards at the hospital, run by the East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust (ESNEFT) in November, and subsequently published their final report on Thursday.

The hospital’s medical care rating, following an inspection conducted in 2019, was good but November’s inspection – where officials focussed their observations on older people’s wards – saw the service’s rating downgraded to requires improvement.

The CQC inspected six of the hospital's medical care wards, which include older people’s care, after receiving concerning information about the safety and quality of care and treatment being provided to people.

It means the hospital is legally required to make a raft of improvements to its level of care.

Many of the problems facing the service's medical care stemmed from low staffing levels which put nurses, doctors, healthcare assistants, and other members of staff under severe pressure.

The inspection found:

  • Staff were not always up to date with mandatory training in key skills, including for safeguarding.
  • The service did not have enough staff to care for people and keep them safe.
  • Staff did not always provide safe care and treatment, or adequately respond to people’s needs.
  • Staff did not always effectively communicate discharge information for people leaving the wards to return to the community.
  • Leaders did not always operate effective governance processes.
  • Staff did not always comply with infection prevention control principles.
  • Legislation to protect people’s privacy and confidential information, in relation to their records, was not always met.
  • Staff did not always feel respected, supported and valued.
  • Staff did not always ensure people and those close to them understood their care and treatment.
  • Managers could not always support staff to develop through yearly, constructive appraisals of their work.

The CQC carried out November’s inspection unannounced after they received information which suggested the safety and quality of older people’s services in the hospital could be putting patients at risk.

The inspection concluded the service fell short in four out of the five key metrics which the CQC uses to judge the quality of care being provided to patients.

Officials said although the service provided compassionate care to patients, its safety, effectiveness, responsiveness and leadership all fell short.

The inspection involved members of the CQC interviewing different levels of staff in the hospital as well a select number of patients and their relatives.


Although staff told inspectors they were generally well supported by their senior management team, the increasing number of vacancies throughout the service resulted in some patients being at risk of harm.

One paragraph of the report read: "National shortages of nursing and support staff and elevated levels of staff absence meant the division did not always have enough staff to keep patients safe.

Aside from staffing resources, inspectors observed shortcomings in other areas, including how the departments recorded data on personal protective equipment (PPE) compliance.

ESNEFT is now required to meet six legal obligations it is currently failing to fulfil.

Antoinette Smith, CQC head of hospital inspection in the east of England, said: “While there were areas where people were receiving good care and treatment in Colchester Hospital’s medical care, there were issues that East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust, as provider of the service, must address.

“The service’s staffing arrangements weren’t always sufficient to meet the needs of people using it. While many NHS services and those across the wider healthcare sector face this challenge, the trust must find ways to prevent this compromising the care it provides to people.

“The trust must also ensure staff complete all required training, to ensure the service is safely able to meet people’s needs, and that measures to prevent the spread of infection are followed.

“However, despite these issues, there were aspects of the care being provided to people that were of high quality. This includes steps being taken to manage risks, and collaboration between staff which was in people’s best interest.

“We also found people were treated with kindness and compassion.

“We’ve reported our findings to the East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust, so it knows what it needs to address in the service.

“We continue to monitor the service, including through future inspections, to ensure people receive care and treatment that meets standards they have a right to expect.”

ESNEFT’s chief nurse, Dr Giles Thorpe, said the CQC’s recommendations were already being put in place.


He said: “Like all NHS Trusts throughout the country, our staff have been managing many pressures and I am very grateful for all of their hard work.

“It is pleasing to see that the inspectors also found many positive aspects of our care and leadership”.