A children’s ward at Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Huntingdon has failed to meet national standards of quality and safety, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) has ruled.

The health regulator's inspectors visited Holly Ward without warning last month and found that Cambridgeshire Community Services (CCS) NHS Trust had failed to protect patients' safety and welfare.

The inspection was a follow up to check the trust had acted on concerns raised after a visit in February when problems had been found including how nursing care was recorded and the number of nurses on duty. It was also critical of patients having access to a room containing medical equipment and sharp objects, including knives, which had been left open by staff.

A letter from the trust had been sent to the CQC saying it had introduced improvements.

But when inspectors returned in September, they found staffing, on a number of occasions, was below the trust's minimum level to ensure patients safely received the necessary care. They also noted important elements of nursing care were not being properly documented, such as two patients whose fluid intake was not being monitored despite notes in their nursing plans to say it should be.

Three nurses also gave inconsistent and contradictory answers when asked about who should complete nursing care plans and when they were updated.

Meanwhile, doors to the store room, which had previously been wedged open, had been fitted with keypad locks and were securely shut.

As a result of the findings, the trust was told it had to provide an action plan to the CQC by Thursday (October 17) detailing how it would tackle the issues.

Andrea Gordon, the CQC's deputy director of operations for regions, said: “Although our inspectors saw some good practice, the failings we found at the Holly Ward are a real concern.

“CQC has been working to ensure the safety and wellbeing of patients at this service and we have told the trust changes need to be made.

“We will be closely monitoring its progress on the improvements it needs to make.

“Our inspectors will return in the near future and if we find the required progress is not made we won't hesitate to take further action where necessary.”

CCS chief nurse Mandy Renton said a plan had been devised to ensure full compliance with the CQC's concerns by the end of December. Two extra nurses had been recruited for the ward, she said, and the equivalent of two-and-a-half full-time nurse vacancies were being filled.

She added: “I can reassure local people that at no time since the initial CQC visit in February have nursing staffing levels on the ward fallen below safe levels.

“On occasions since February, we were unable to identify sufficient temporary nursing staff to maintain safe staffing levels for assessment beds within our inpatient services while the new posts and vacancies were recruited to. We therefore took the difficult decision to temporarily close these beds on these occasions to ensure safe staffing levels were maintained at all times.

“Care for children requiring assessments continued to be provided albeit in a different area of the ward.”