UNDERSTAFFING and under-training at an NHS trust contributed to a series of wholly preventable mistakes that could have resulted in serious harm or death amid a culture of fear, a report has found.

Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust has been rated ‘requires improvement overall’ following a Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspection earlier this year.

The report, published yesterday, found “patients were not always protected from harm” and highlighted understaffing and under-training at the trust which runs Southend Hospital, Basildon Hospital and Broomfield Hospital.

The NHS trust had recorded 12 never events – incidents that are wholly preventable as guidance or safety recommendations that provide strong systemic protective barriers and have the potential to cause serious patient harm or death – in the 12 months prior to inspection.

“We were concerned that despite action plans and learning, there were repeated failures to prevent never events from occurring,” inspectors wrote.

The CQC inspection was called following a “high number” of whistleblowers raising the alarm over quality of care across the organisation.

Between August 2020 and August 2021, CQC received 43 whistleblowing enquiries from maternity services, medicine, urgent and emergency care, and some community services.

Issues raised by whistleblowers revolved around “staffing, culture, support, governance, and patient safety”, the report said. Many told CQC they “feared retribution” for speaking up.

CQC inspectors found the trust was struggling to provide a sufficient level of staffing to ensure patients received quality care, and of those staff that were employed, some were under trained.

“Staffing was a challenge across the trust both for nursing and medical staff with shifts regularly below planned numbers,” the report stated, adding: “Not all staff had received mandatory training”.

The trust’s leadership told inspectors they were on a “significant journey” following its formation from a merger of three existing trusts in April 2020, adding this process had been especially “challenging” to navigate alongside the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Trust leaders recognised that staff were tired and, in some cases, ‘burnt out’ from the demand on services during the pandemic,” inspectors wrote.

“We are fully aware of the key issues and are continuing to address these. On-going staffing issues have a significant impact and we’re working tirelessly to increase permanent staffing levels," Mid and South Essex Trust chief executive Clare Panniker said.

“We know that some of the issues we are addressing can’t be fixed overnight, or in isolation, but we are an improving organisation and are working as a healthcare system committed to providing the very best services to the community that we serve.”