A senior medic has said progress is being made to improve care at a major hospital trust following a series of patient safety blunders.

The Royal Free London Hospital NHS Foundation Trust was recently downgraded by inspectors after they reported a “large number” of ‘never events’ – serious incidents that are entirely preventable – at sites run by the trust.

A report by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) published on May 10 revealed the events could be linked to “poor behaviours among a few consultant surgeons in the trust” and added there was a “culture of bullying within the operating theatres”.

The CQC rated the trust – which runs Barnet Hospital and a host of other sites – as ‘requires improvement’, downgrading it from its previous ‘good’ rating.

Dr Chris Streather, the trust’s chief medical director, spoke about the incidents at a meeting of Barnet Council’s health overview and scrutiny committee on Wednesday (May 15).

He said: “We had a very bad run. If you look at the last five years, the number (of never events) per year is about four to eight – so the nine this year was significantly more”.

Dr Streather said the events fell into three different categories: operations in a traditional operating theatre, air-oxygen misconnections, and procedures that do not take place in traditional operating theatres.

He told the committee: “We did a fix that involved training, that involved blocking off some of the air supplies and changing the nature of the connectors, which I hope has massively reduced the risk of the air-oxygen muddle – and that has not happened since.

“The second thing we did was work in operating theatres, both in terms of behaviours and also the team culture, with some specific remedial work.

“Touching wood, we have not had a single never event in seven months now. I think none in seven months is a good run, and better than we have had for some years.”

The chief medic said the trust had gone through all the procedures that did not take place in traditional operating theatres – such as eye injections for macular degeneration – and developed protocols that “essentially match the high standards we have in operating theatres”.

Dr Streather said: “This is a big piece of work, but it is having some effect. We have not had a never event since we started doing it.”

He added: “If you look at all nine never events, none of them resulted in lasting harm to a patient. It is small comfort, but it is the case.”

The Royal Free London is one of the UK’s biggest trusts, providing care and treatment to more than 1.6 million patients each year across its three main hospitals – The Royal Free Hospital, Chase Farm Hospital and Barnet Hospital.

It also runs Edgware Community Hospital, Finchley Memorial Hospital and Hadley Wood Hospital in Barnet.