Liberal Democrat Councillors at North Somerset Council launched an Inquiry Day into Weston General Hospital’s Major Outbreak on Thursday 4th June. Robert Woolley, CEO of University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust, has agreed to Cllr Huw James’ calls for an Inquiry Day into the outbreak that has closed the hospital to admissions since 8am on Monday 25th May.
Mr Woolley, who explained that he was not able to comment on the points of failure that caused the spike of infections in Weston General Hospital, agreed to Cllr Huw James’ request for him to come back “after the firefighting (…) as there’s a lot of questions still to ask” at the Council’s Health Overview and Scrutiny Panel. University Hospitals Bristol and Weston are currently conducting an investigation incident report into the problems and lessons learnt over the causes of the large amount of infections found in the General Hospital.
Responding to Cllr Geoff Richardson’s question asking how the Health Boss could be confident that it would be safe to reopen the Hospital, Mr Woolley explained “This is why we have explicit criteria for reopening, and why we have tested all the in-patients four times now, and we are launching our second full test of Weston General Hospital Staff. That gives us the information we did not have before of where the infections rise and where the liabilities may be.”
During the Health Overview meeting the Director for Public Health in North Somerset, Matt Lenny, broke the news that there was no evidence of community spread from hospital coronavirus outbreak. Mr Lenny told the panel “The review of local cases by Public Health England has provided welcome reassurance that there are reasonable explanations for the recent rise in North Somerset coronavirus cases. We believe we are not seeing widespread transmission of the virus beyond what is typical for other local authorities in our area. Even with the additional cases found over recent weeks, the concentration of cases in our community is still in line with other areas in the South West.”
Earlier in the week, a whistle-blower to the Bristol Post claimed that the lack of PPE, Infection Control, and poor staff rostering, had all led the huge rise in cases. Mr Woolley responded that “No one had raised any concerns either formally or anonymously, and we have been making it clear to staff all along that there are multiple rooms for raising concern on any issue”, and plead for any staff members with issues to communicate with the hospital through the management or the formal NHS Whistleblowing Policy.
Liberal Democrat Health Spokesperson, Munira Wilson MP, challenged the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock MP on the whistle-blower claims. Wilson asked “what advice is he giving to NHS and social care sectors on rostering of BAME staff in high-risk COVID-19 areas” and “whether his department will be investigating whistle-blower claims that BAME locums were disproportionately placed on the rota at Weston Hospital.”
Matt Hancock reflected on the Disparities Report by PHE and said that the Equalities Minister, Kemi Badenoch MP, would be taking this work forward.
Challenged on the whistle-blower claims by Cllr James, Mr Woolley responded “It is a horrible allegation” and that “there are multiple rooms for raising concern on any issue and not just the risk that’s being run by our Black Asian and Minority Ethnic colleagues.”
Woolley added “the majority of staff, a lot of the senior members of staff, at Weston General are BAME staff and we have known that all along. Staff do not raise issues of discrimination; they tell me that they feel supported.
“Right across the trust we have made it entirely understood that there should be individual discussions going on with managers, and we have a risk assessment tool which we follow with the guidance and we’ve tailored our own risk assessment with the input of BAME staff within the trust.
“Any BAME staff with issues with the trust have not been coming forward to me or management about that and we have got the tools in place and more importantly we have the measures in place about the responsibilities that senior staff have.”