NHS Trust apologises to families of COVID patients for “inexcusable” mistakes

The NHS trust that runs King George Hospital and Queen’s Hospital has apologised for “inexcusable” mistakes in its support for the families of COVID patients.

The relative of a COVID patient who died early last year told the trust’s board at a meeting today that problems with communication “made a terrible situation worse” for their family.

The relative, not identified to protect the family’s grief, said they received daily calls from a “reassurance team” but “found these particularly difficult” as the staff had no medical knowledge.

They said they sometimes received contradictory information and staff responded to any questions by saying someone would get back to them, but that this never happened.

Board members for Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust (BHRUT), which runs the hospitals in Romford and Ilford, apologised and said the trust had since worked hard to improve.

The relative told the board: “We think he received the best care he could and are really grateful. Our issue is… more about communication, which we felt made a terrible situation even worse.

“He was unconscious and there was no way we could directly speak to him. We were reliant on members of staff to let us know how he was doing and what options were available to him.

“We started to receive daily calls from the reassurance team and we found these particularly difficult. They were from admin staff who were not medically trained and we really felt they did not know what they were talking about.

“It was really confusing for us to understand what was going on and it did not seem like the people making the calls understood either.

“If we asked any questions, they said they would pass them on to the medical team to get back to us but no one ever got back to us.”

The relative said they later received a phone call from the reassurance team conducting a survey on the service itself, which they argued was inappropriate.

They said: “We did not feel we could accurately respond because the people conducting that survey were the people we were relying on to give us any piece of information they could.

“We understand it was a really difficult time, with everybody trying to get to grips with it… but there was a real lack of human kindness and understanding.

“What I would really like to come out of this is training with medical and non-medical staff to understand how incredibly difficult this is for patients and families.

“I really hope families that have to go through this experience in the coming months do not have to go through it in the way we did.”

BHRUT’s chief executive officer Tony Chambers said the way the family was “left to feel helpless” while their relative was in hospital was “just inexcusable”.

He said: “I do know that we did not get things right at the start of the pandemic but, because of stories like yours, we got better.

“I’m not saying in any way that it is all fixed but there’s a relentless focus to make sure we can reliably be more personal and use technology better.

“I hope you have not lost your trust and faith in BHRUT as an organisation and we’re really grateful for this opportunity to try to put things right.”

He added that the trust will write to the family to explain in more detail the changes they have made to their support for families.

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Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter