NHS trusts have been told to make significant improvements to two mental health units after concerns about patient safety were raised.
A Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspection was carried out at Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (EPUT) in October.
The CQC issued a warning notice and rated the trust it provides for both women’s wards as “inadequate” overall.
The trust says patient care and safety is “our number one priority.”
The commission suspended the ratings on efficiency, care and management pending the findings of a follow-up inspection in January.
Inspectors made surprise visits to two units – Galleywood at Chelmsford Hospital and Willow at Gatesford Hospital – after the trust notified the CQC of a “planned broadcast” of undercover footage of Channel 4 investigative program Dispatches.
Both units provide inpatient care and treatment for women who are irregularly admitted or detained under the Mental Health Act 1983.
The CQC report, published on Friday, said staff did not identify “blind spots” in wards where patients were not seen and procedures for recording and reporting incidents were not always followed.
The storage of “ligature cutters” is not in line with the integrity policy, the report said, causing confusion during emergencies.
They told regulators they saw patients sleeping on the job and high levels of staff vacancy and patients being cared for by “unfamiliar” temporary staff.
Ceri Morris-Williams, CQC deputy director of mental health in the East of England, said the inspection had “raised some concerns about people’s wellbeing”.
“Our inspectors reviewed data and found two instances where staff were reported to have fallen asleep while conducting inspections,” she said.
“We have also found blankets preventing people from visiting gardens, bedrooms, bathrooms and toilets. This is unacceptable.”
She said the trust had been warned that enforcement action would be taken if “immediate improvements” were not made.
An EPUT spokesperson said: “Over the past two years we have made many improvements to benefit our patients – these include spending £20m on improving the environment on our wards to make them safer and more accessible, as well as working with our staff. Improving the way we support and care for people with mental health problems.
We know there is more to do and we will continue to push forward in partnership with people using our services, their families and carers.
The trust said it was working hard to attract more permanent staff in the face of NHS-wide staff shortages.