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  • Writer's pictureDan Heley

New report on Weston Hospital reveals issues that led to deadly outbreak

A newly published report has revealed how drip-fed data presentation "potentially masked" a coronavirus outbreak at Weston General Hospital.

The outbreak in May is thought to have contributed to the deaths of as many as 18 patients, and prompted the hospital to close to new patients for three weeks to contain infections.

A new independent report commissioned by University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the hospital, has uncovered further information into how the deadly virus spread.

The report, published yesterday (Tuesday 22nd December), states: "All parts of the system had a part to play in identifying that there was an emerging ‘problem’ early on" and that "there was lack of clarity about how system data was being used by different parts of the system, with no clear agreement for sharing or collective analysis"

It finds that the method by which the data was presented potentially concealed the emerging issue at Weston General Hospital. The report continues; "It was reported that across the system different data systems were being used which made it less easy to chart trends and emerging issues."

The trust's own internal investigation published in September said 31 inpatients in the hospital between May 5 and May 24 had died having contracted COVID-19 there. Of those, 18 could have died as a direct result of catching the virus whilst in the hospital, for which the trust said it was "deeply sorry".

At the time of the outbreak, a leaked memo revealed that 40 per cent of staff had tested positive for the virus, many of whom displayed no symptoms. This is believed to have led to the significant increase in positive contractions of the virus amongst patients who had previously tested negative prior to entering the hospital.

The new report states that some processes within the hospital "were not sufficiently joined-up", leading to a "lack of clarity". It also stated that the outbreak occurred just seven weeks after University Hospitals Bristol merged with Weston Area Health NHS Trust to create the existing trust, following uncertainty about the future of Weston General. As a result, "systems, processes and policies had not been fully harmonised".

The report states "The learning across the system has been immense since the outbreak of COVID-19 and indeed since the temporary closure of Weston General Hospital. All staff members interviewed as part of this review identified how rapid the learning has been and that the understanding of systems, processes and value of embedded collaborative working in April/May 2020 were different to where they are today." It continued; "For this reason, if a similar scenario occurred today, it is the reviewer's view that it is probable that responses would be different."

The 26-page report was encouraging about the prompt reaction of the hospitals leadership and governance once the outbreak was identified, and praised "some excellent areas of practice". However, several people spoken too in order to compile the report felt that the situation "should have been alerted sooner" with sharing of data and analysis identified as a key issue with the report stating "A view expressed was that because of the way cumulative data was being presented the emerging local issues at Weston were being masked."

The report added: "It was reported that too much time was taken in accessing reliable data, as a result people started to make assumptions and speculate about what the situation really was." and that "The challenge of this outbreak cannot be underestimated given the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, the anxiety in the local community, system and nationally and the need to reassure and rapidly brief internal and external stakeholders multiple times."

The report added: "It was reported that too much time was taken in accessing reliable data, as a result people started to make assumptions and speculate about what the situation really was."

The report made several recommendations, and the Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Performance Oversight Group will now develop and oversee an action plan informed by these.



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