Tunbridge Wells Hospital in Pembury, Kent, has received two warning notices from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) after its Accident and Emergency department was found to be overstretched, understaffed and failing patients. Inspectors found that patients were being left significantly too long, that there was a serious lack of beds and that both the minor and major accident units were understaffed. The hospital staff even told the inspectors that they struggled to cope.

The hospital only opened in January 2011, at a cost of £230 million, with the Accident and Emergency department opening in September 2011. Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust has apologised for the failings and said that it has made immediate changes to improve patient care. The CQC is planning a further unannounced inspection after March 2012 and if the hospital has not made the required changes then enforcement powers can be used.

This is indeed a worrying situation, particularly in such a recently-opened hospital, which presumably boasts state of the art facilities and should be providing a high level of care to its patients. Emergency treatment must of course be provided in a timely fashion or otherwise patients will be put at risk. This means having sufficient staffing levels at all times, those staff having the appropriate experience and skills, and the management and administrative procedures being in place to cope with the level of demand. When the system falls down, the consequences for patients can be very serious indeed. Patients can endure additional pain and distress, injuries and illnesses can be misdiagnosed and patients can ultimately end up requiring further surgery or other treatment, sometimes more invasive than would otherwise have been the case.