Nurses not wearing face masks ‘led to outbreak forcing A&E to shut’

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Nurses who didn’t wear face masks fuelled a coronavirus outbreak which forced a north-west London hospital to shut its A&E department, an investigation has found.

Hillingdon Hospital was forced to close its doors to emergency admissions on July 7 as 70 members of staff went into self-isolation. Ambulances were still being turned away from the site in Boris Johnson’s constituency more than a week later.

An inquiry into the incident found one nurse unknowingly infected 16 other people during a training session on June 30, described by one doctor as a ‘super-spreading event’. Hospital sources said not everyone at the event wore a mask or stayed two metres apart, the Guardian reports.

Witnesses claimed people were particularly careless social distancing measures during lunchtime and many members of staff couldn’t understand why the session went ahead when most NHS training had been either postponed or moved online to avoid the risk of infections.

Last week Hillingdon Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust chief executive Sarah Tedford reportedly emailed staff on July 3 blaming the outbreak on a lack of face masks and social distancing.

But it is not clear if she was referring to the training session, which one doctor called ‘disastrous’ and ‘out of kilter with how the hospital has handled meetings of all kinds during Covid’.

An ongoing probe into the case is being run by senior executives of the trust, along with Public Health England officials, NHS England and Hillingdon Council’s public health team.

One health official with knowledge of the investigation said: ‘Social distancing is very important in this pandemic, so it’s worrying to find that not done by an NHS trust. They shouldn’t be breaching any social distancing rules at the moment.’

The nurse who spread the bug among colleagues is thought to have caught it from a patient who had recently returned from abroad.

She became increasingly unwell during the training session and ended up having to go to the A&E department, where many of the people she infected worked.

There is no suggestion she acted inappropriately during the training session which was held in a lecture theatre theatre in Hillingdon’s education centre. Three nurses who attended the event ended up needing hospital treatment.

In a statement the trust said: ‘There is an ongoing investigation into the outbreak of Covid-19 at Hillingdon hospital. Our priority is to maintain safe and high quality care, and the trust is taking appropriate actions to reduce transmission in line with Public Health England guidance.’

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