The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has been forced to take action at an Essex National Health Service trust after uncovering a "completely unacceptable" standard of care in a paediatric ward.

The Commission has issued two warnings "demanding immediate improvement" at Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust after a surprise inspection earlier this month - reportedly spurred by the death of a 10-year old girl due to a suspected medication error - revealed a catalogue of "serious incidents" involving the care of children.

The inspectors found that, despite the Trust having recently carried out an audit of out-of-date medicines on the children's ward, medicines that should have been discarded at the time were still in circulation, which at best could hinder care and worse cause serious harm.

Staff described frequent "considerable delays" in children getting appropriate medical attention upon the worsening of their condition, particularly after 5pm and at weekends.

It was also found that despite being seen by a nurse within 15 minutes of arrival, patients sometimes had to wait more than an hour to see a doctor, and there was particular concern over the availability of senior medical staff including paediatric consultants.

Andrea Gordon, CQC deputy director of operations (regions), said what the inspectors found at the Trust was "completely unacceptable", and that the actions have been taken by the Commission to "assist in driving through improvements which have a positive impact on the people being cared for at the hospital".

In addition to the warnings, the CQC has also ordered the Trust to commission an independent investigation into its paediatric services.

In trouble before

The Trust has been in trouble with the Commission before; in July it was ordered to make improvements on essential standards of care within its Accident & Emergency services.

According to Gordon, while it is disappointing that the Trust has again been found in breach of regulations again, it has already given "assurances of what action it intends to take and we will be closely monitoring its progress on the improvements it needs to make".

Clare Panniker, Chief Executive of Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “I want to assure the local community that we are absolutely committed to improving the standards of care which we deliver to children.

A number of "immediate changes" have been made to address the most serious concerns, she stressed, including putting more senior staff on duty at all times, and the introduction of weekly unannounced spot checks to ensure clinical practice standards, including checking expiry dates on medication, are being followed.