THE John Radcliffe Hospital has been ordered to make urgent improvements after inspectors found unhygienic and dilapidated operating theatres posed a potential risk to patients.

Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has since been issued with an urgent notice under the Health and Social Care Act to improve the conditions which the Care Quality Commission (CQC) said affected all areas of the main operating department.

The serious failings were spotted by inspectors as recently as last month.

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Health campaigners have blamed the worrying deterioration on a chronic lack of staff and underfunding in the NHS.

But health chiefs at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the John Radcliffe, refused to say if a lack of funding had played a part, nor whether, in their view, the ramshackle conditions posed a risk to patient safety.

The trust did confirm that ‘immediate action’ had been taken.

In the urgent notice issue to the trust the CQC said ‘the fabric of the environment was found to be in a poor state of repair and effective cleaning could not be assured, presenting a potential infection control risk’.

The CQC added: “These areas were in patient, staff and clinical areas.

“Around the entire theatre complex paint was seen to be peeling off walls. Doors and walls were damaged, exposing underlying surfaces and material such as wood and concrete.”

Inspectors added that packaged sterile equipment was found stored in boxes on the floor throughout the operating department and clinical equipment such as monitors and scanning units were stored, uncovered, in the corridor, with staff unable to confirm if the equipment was cleaned before it was wheeled into theatre.

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A spokesman for OUH said: “Following the Care Quality Commission’s (CQC) unannounced core service inspection, undertaken in November and December 2018, concerns were raised relating to the quality of the environment in the John Radcliffe Hospital theatres.

“The trust takes this position very seriously and immediate actions have been taken to make improvements.

“We are ensuring that the theatre environment is kept clean and safe to use which includes the storage of all equipment and adherence to infection control and cleaning policies.

“We have also put in place plans to avoid excess stock levels and to store all equipment off the floor in a safe manner.

“A detailed action plan has already been developed to address the specific structural issues raised urgently and all the necessary repairs are due to commence on 8 April 2019.”

The hospital, which carries out a range of surgeries including heart operations, vascular surgery and trauma surgery, must now submit a weekly update to the CQC until further notice to make clear what work is being carried out to improve the condition of the department.

The CQC also raised concerns over patient privacy with one operating theatre window being unobscured, so that the inspector was being to look directly onto a patient undergoing surgery.

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Further concerns over the privacy of patients and infection control risks in the hospital’s A&E department were also raised during the same inspections, however, these are thought to be less serious.

Executive director Healthwatch Oxfordshire, Rosalind Pearce, said: “This is obviously a matter of great concern, as hygiene in operating theatres is of fundamental importance. We would expect OUH to take all actions necessary to remedy this as soon as possible. However we do not want to comment further until the full inspection report is published.”

Secretary of Oxfordshire Keep Our NHS Public Bill MacKeith, slammed the CQC findings pointing to last week’s National Audit Office report which claimed the current NHS funding situation was not sustainable.

He added: said: “It is heroic that our NHS staff continue to operate in these circumstances so that the population get treated.

“The chronic underfunding and drive for efficiency savings/targets in the NHS has led to a firefighting, crisis driven atmosphere, and the high use of agency staff - over 800 in the OUH - and continuing use of the private sector to clear waiting lists is both costly and not joined up, which makes it inefficient at the same time as further depleting the hospital’s funds.

“Lets hope the CQC report will shame NHSE into action on our operating theatres.”

Chair of Oxfordshire Socialist Health Association, Oxford city councillor Nadine Bely-Summers said she was 'shocked but not surprised' over the findings.

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Ms Bely-Summers added: "We hope that now the CQC have added their voice central funding for refurbishment will be forthcoming, and we will be calling on our MP to take up this issue."

The hospital’s surgical provision is currently rated as ‘requires improvement’ by the CQC.

The report published following an inspection in 2014 highlights a lack of staff, with senior clinicians feeling at the time that the trust board was ‘motivated by financial, rather than by clinical motives’.

A new CQC report on the hospital is expected to be published early next month.