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Sunday, 21 December 2014

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West Cumbrian hospital staff crisis leaves services 'vulnerable'

A staffing crisis at the West Cumberland Hospital is leaving some of its services “vulnerable”, its medical director has warned.

Ian Gordon photo
Ian Gordon

Problems recruiting both doctors and nurses at the Whitehaven and Carlisle hospitals are causing serious concerns.

They are having to rely heavily on expensive locum doctors to fill gaps left by a high number of consultants leaving and retiring.

Problems in Whitehaven have been exacerbated as a result of concerns from the organisation which provides medical trainees and supervises them.

It wants these people removed from the West Cumberland to complete their work in Carlisle.

In a report to the board of North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust, medical director Jeremy Rushmer said: “Staffing issues at the West Cumberland have given me cause for concern. Whilst the new posts would stabilise medical admissions at the Cumberland Infirmary they put further strain on West Cumberland Hospital, and further need to recruit.

“It is likely that overall this will further place financial pressures on the trust and make acute medicine at the West Cumberland Hospital more vulnerable.

“I have prioritised recruitment of permanent medical middle grades at West Cumberland Hospital, although it remains to be seen if this recruitment is possible.”

The cost of locums is also putting significant strain on already tight budgets, although new contracts are being in to try and address these spiralling costs.

In nursing, bosses are calling on bank staff, or existing nurses working extra hours and overtime, to ensure wards are properly manned.

Meanwhile, new beds at the Cumberland Infirmary can not open until more nurses have been appointed. From Monday, the Maple C elderly care ward will move to a former pre-assessment unit on Maple A, adding five new beds. However, plans to open a further 12 new orthopedic beds in their place have been delayed due to a staffing shortage.

On a positive note, the trust has just agreed to receive two intakes of student nurses from University Of Cumbria every year, instead of one. Bosses say this will result in more nurses being trained and hopefully staying in the area in the long term.

They are also introducing joint elderly care posts, meaning staff will work at the hospital and in the community.

But in the short term recruitment issues, along with the pressures of rising emergency admissions, are causing real concerns.

Speaking about the medical staffing situation, chairman Ian Gordon described it as “depressing”, while other board members asked why so many people were leaving – if there were specific issues or general dissatisfaction.

Dr Rushmer said there were historic, systematic problems at the root, including the impact of long-term recruitment issues.

He proposed to undertake a piece of urgent work to look at the issues, including meeting with the medical staff, and looking for possible solutions.

Of those consultants retiring, a number have agreed to come back part time.

Meanwhile, the trust is looking to recruit nurses from abroad to ease pressures.

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