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Wednesday, 23 April 2014

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Recruitment crisis means hospital beds cannot open

North Cumbria’s two main hospitals are being hit by staff shortages as bosses battle to improve patient care.

Peter Weaving photo
Peter Weaving

County councillors have been given a snapshot of the progress being made to improve care at The Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle and Whitehaven’s West Cumberland Hospital.

A report reveals that dozens of patients – many elderly – are left stranded in the infirmary for weeks on end because cottage hospitals do not have the staff to care for them in the community.

The hospital in Whitehaven is also suffering because bosses can not recruit the qualified nurses they need to staff 15 identified extra beds.

The same report, prepared by managers at North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust, which manages both hospitals, said staffing shortfalls on the wards at the Whitehaven hospital are now a “serious concern”.

The county council’s health scrutiny committee was given a series of documents which examine performance at the trust since government inspectors highlighted inadequate care at both hospitals.

The problems included substandard care, out-of-date medical equipment and inadequate staff levels.

The most recent figures for the trust show that the hospitals are currently 61 qualified nurses short of the number they need – 32 in Whitehaven and 29 at the Cumberland Infirmary.

The report says that rolling adverts are being placed for new nurses, and managers are also trying to recruit from overseas. Temporary staff and overtime are being used but the situation is said to be a cause for concern that needs daily monitoring.

The report goes on to say that “significant numbers of beds” remain closed in Cumbria’s community hospitals because of staffing shortages in recent months.

Though the situation improved in January, the infirmary was accommodating 40 patients with non-emergency medical needs. Twenty had been in the hospital for more than 30 days, and 10 for more than 100 days. The trust now employs a social worker to help organise safe hospital discharges.

Dr Peter Weaving, the trust’s GP clinical director for emergency care, said managers were working to recruit new consultants.

“The trust has had a dependence on locums, who cost twice as much as substantive appointments and who are less productive and less effective for a variety of reasons,” he said.

But the trust had recruited a new respiratory consultant and a elderly care consultant, he said.

Dr Weaving said the consultant shortages in west Cumbria would be helped by the opening of the new hospital, which he said would be a “fantastic elective care centre”.

The meeting also heard that by the third quarter of last year the trust had received 268 new complaints – compared to 201 in the same period last year.

Dr Weaving said staff at the hospitals were now themselves better at reporting incidents of concern.

“Every day, I get 30 or 40 specific incidents reported, some very minor, and I want to see all of these things reported,” he said.

Copeland councillor Geoff Garrity told the meeting of concerns raised by one of his constituents, a woman whose husband had a bowel cancer operation.

Two follow-up appointments in February were cancelled and he was finally given an appointment in May – in Carlisle. Mr Garrity said: “You can’t class that as service – a cancer patient who’s had his operation and his next appointment is May 24 and is told that the clinic won’t be at the West Cumberland.”

Dr Weaving agreed such service was not acceptable.

Carlisle castle ward councillor Willie Whalen told the meeting that the legendary Labour politician Nye Bevan, credited with establishing the NHS, would be disappointed with the current state of health services.

He suggested that there was a “sickening” culture of elitism amongst some in the medical profession.

The meeting also heard a report from Healthwatch Cumbria, the county’s recently-established health and social care watchdog.

It pointed out that there is evidence suggesting the use of locums rather than consultants has produced inconsistent care for some cancer patients.

There are also concerns of patients being transferred between the West Cumberland Hospital and the Cumberland Infirmary in the night – because that’s the only time the necessary transport is available.

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