The chief executive in charge of Watford General Hospital is so determined to improve its care she took to a wheelchair to see what it was like navigating its site.

Samantha Jones undertook the initiative after being challenged by patients complaining about wheelchair access around the hospital

The former nurse said it was part of her drive up care standards at the hospital, which recently failed five out of six test areas in an inspection, by listening to patients more carefully.

In an interview with the Watford Observer about her first year in the post, Ms Jones said her first 12 months had been challenging.

However, despite the poor inspection performance, she said there had been serious improvements at the hospital in recent months.

She said: "It has definitely been a challenging year. No question about that. We have had a whole change of all the leadership. We have got a new chairman, four new non-executive directors, and we will have a brand new executive team by probably May.

"So that has meant that we have been looking at absolutely everything, peeling back the layers with (Operation) Onion, which is more than what is just happening clinically."

Among the improvements Ms Jones cited were having more than 95 per cent of A&E patients seen, treated, or discharged within four hours; reducing C difficile rates by 43 per cent and reducing the trust’s mortality rate by 20 per cent.

Ms Jones added: "These are massively significant improvements. This year has been about peeling back and looking at what is happening. We have reviewed all of our referral pathways in the trust and we identified some issues around patients being referred for suspected cancer."

Despite the reforms initiated at the hospital over the last year an unannounced inspection by the Care Quality Commission in December uncovered serious issues at Watford General.

The health watchdog voiced concerns about infection control, hygiene, and staff levels at the hospital.

During its rounds, the inspection team also found dried blood in a corridor as well as medical records containing information about the wrong patients and treatment being delayed due to staffing pressures.

The commission’s report did also praise other aspects of the hospital such as the way staff treated patients and it was being well led by the new management team.

Commenting in the inspection report, Ms Jones said: "I don’t think it was disappointing. I think it was fair and it didn’t tell us anything we didn’t know, which was important.

"We have invested £4 million in staffing over the last year and we have recruited over 300 nurses. We go through staffing every single day in our (Operation) Onion meetings, but also by clinical area. So we do know what is happening from our staffing perspective."

Ms Jones’s efforts to improve the hospital’s care do not just involve her being cloistered in management meets and pouring over spreadsheets. She said she was making a conscious effort to learn from patients’ experiences - even when what they had to say was hard to hear.

She added: "I was recently challenged by our patients’ panel on Friday to spend some time in wheelchair and go around the hospital site, which I did, to see what it was like and see what it is like to be a patient.

"So moving forward, undoubtedly we have got to continue doing what we are doing, continue listening to our patients, continue being very honest when haven’t got it right - I think that is important, however difficult a job for me to say ‘we haven’t got this right’. First and foremost it is about the patients and their families and being honest when we have made mistakes and we will continue to do that."