Hospital outbreak ‘may have’ contributed to deaths of 18 patients

An internal investigation has found the coronavirus outbreak at Weston General Hospital 'may have' l

An internal investigation has found the coronavirus outbreak at Weston General Hospital 'may have' led to the deaths of 18 patients. - Credit: Archant

Eighteen people may have died as a direct result of the coronavirus outbreak at Weston General Hospital, according to an investigation by the health trust.

Thirty-one patients died after contracting Covid-19 at the hospital and the infection ‘may have’ been a factor in 18 of those deaths.

University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust (UHBW) says it is ‘deeply sorry’ for the deaths and is offering support to the families concerned.

The trust carried out an internal investigation following the outbreak which led to the hospital closing to new patients from May 25 until June 18 – but bosses say the inquiry has not pinpointed a single cause.

Asymptomatic staff and patients, staff moving between wards, the size and layout of the hospital and the number and configuration of beds are all believed to have contributed to the outbreak.

Dr William Oldfield, medical director at UHBW, said: “During the investigation we identified 31 patients who have sadly passed away having contracted coronavirus infection whilst they were an inpatient in the hospital.

“To our profound regret, in 18 of these patients the infection may have contributed to their death. We are deeply sorry for this.

“We are already in contact with the families of these patients and have informed them of the outcome of the review.

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“We have apologised unreservedly and have offered them support. For each family concerned we will undertake an investigation into the specific circumstances which led up to the death of their loved one.

“We will invite them to help inform the investigation to ensure that any questions they have are addressed.”

A number of changes have been made to the hospital following the outbreak including appropriate zoning in line with national guidance, a reduction in the number of beds to improve social distancing and minimising staff movements across the hospital.

Dr Oldfield added: “Our investigation, and independent PHE (Public Health England) analysis, has not identified a single cause for the outbreak.

“There are a number of factors which may have contributed, these include; the size and layout of the hospital, the number and configuration of beds, relatively small team sizes and the need to move staff between wards to provide safe staffing levels, and the presence of both staff and patients who were asymptomatic but tested positive for Covid-19.

“A number of the recommendations from our investigation had already been completed as part of planning for the safe reopening of Weston General Hospital in June 2020; appropriate zoning in line with national guidance; we have reduced the number of beds in the hospital to improve social distancing between patients; and we have made significant efforts to minimise staff movements across the hospital, while following the national guidance on the appropriate segregation of symptomatic and asymptomatic patients.”

The trust said it has also introduced ‘rapid turnaround coronavirus testing’ to enable earlier detection of the virus, and reviewed how data is reported to ensure any issues are identified as they emerge.

UHBW will share its findings with local partners and the wider NHS to try to prevent similar outbreaks from happening.

Commenting on the investigation, Mike Bell, executive member for health and care at North Somerset Council, said: “Many families have lost loved ones through the Covid-19 pandemic and our thoughts are with them.

“Any hospital-acquired infection death is one too many and my heart breaks for families who have lost someone in these circumstances.

“We should take this opportunity to remind ourselves of the tragic effect this virus can have, particularly on those in our community who are older or living with health-conditions.

“With case numbers on the increase locally and nationally we must do all that we can to prevent the spread of this awful disease and protect the people of North Somerset.”