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'Culture of helplessness' at hospital in Portsmouth, inspectors find

Queen Alexandra hospital in Portsmouth was rated 'inadequate' by inspectors. Credit: Chris Ison / PA Wire

Staff at a hospital in Portsmouth recognised that the standard of care at the facility is "unacceptable" but felt "a culture of helplessness" prevented them from doing anything about it, according to health inspectors.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) rated Queen Alexandra hospital as "inadequate" for its urgent and emergency services.

CQC inspectors, who visited the hospital unannounced in February and March, found the overcrowded A&E department was putting patients at "unacceptable risk".

They noted "regular, significant and substantial overcrowding" in the emergency department with patients being forced to wait for care in corridors and in ambulances.

The CQC said the A&E department was putting patients at 'unacceptable risk'. Credit: Chris Ison / PA Archive

The inspectors report noted ambulances were unable to get to other patients with life threatening injuries in the appropriate time and outlined how CQC officials even had to intervene at some points to ensure patients were safe.

During one inspection the A&E department was so busy that 16 ambulances - one-third of the emergency ambulance fleet for Hampshire - were queuing outside.

To free up ambulances some patients were forced to wait in a 'Jumbulance' - an ambulance vehicle that could accommodate up to four waiting patients - which inspectors said was "cold and unsuitable for the purpose for which it was frequently being used".

The CQC ordered the trust to make a series of improvements to emergency care, including stopping using the so-called 'Jumbulance' unless there is a major incident.

Responding to the inspection report, Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust's interim chief executive, Tim Powell, apologised for "failing" its patients.

During one inspection 16 ambulances were found queuing outside the hospital. Credit: Chris Ison / PA Archive

We recognise the picture painted by the CQC in this report and we are very sorry that we have failed to provide to our patients, on a consistent basis, the high standards of care that we expect of ourselves.

We fully accept the inspector's findings and we are now working hard to make the improvements that will ensure we have a much more efficient emergency department in future.

We have already made some changes and over the coming weeks and months we will be doing more. Our first priority is to ensure patient safety within the emergency department.

– Tim Powell

Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust's chief executive Ursula Ward resigned in May.