Essex: Nursing levels at severely low levels on some wards at Colchester General Hospital

Nursing staff levels low at Colchester's hospitals.

Nursing staff levels low at Colchester's hospitals. - Credit: IAN BURT

A shortage of nursing has led to 14 areas of Colchester’s hospitals being added to a risk register.

A review of staffing levels has revealed that last month six wards were rated “red” with 17 “amber” and just three “green” for how the actual number of nurses matched those planned for.

The montly review is a requirement of NHS England, and found particular shortfalls in the levels of unqualified staff. However so far in July there has been a “marked improvement” in filling bank staff shifts.

More than three-quarters of acute trusts, those which run hospitals, missed their own staffing targets.

A report into staffing levels said beds can be closed when staffing levels are not adequate to ensure patients are not put at risk. This happened last month on Birch ward, an elderly care ward, where attempts are being made to avoid using five beds while 10 vacancies and long-term sickness are affecting staffing levels.


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The ward had the lowest level of daytime qualified staff working during June, with just 69.1% of staff templated to be working actually on shift.

Other wards highlighted as at risk include the Stroke Unit, where “general standard of care, attention to detail and tidiness of the ward have suffered” as a result of nurse vacancies and high sickness levels among health care assistants. There are concerns about the long-term effect on the unit as a lack of more senior nurses also impacts on training for junior staff.

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Colchester Hospital University Foundation NHS Trust (CHUFT), which runs the town’s two hospitals, will discuss the findings at a board of directors’ meeting on Thursday.

Hospital chiefs are now considering recruiting more nurses from overseas to plug the gap.

The trust has in the past held such campaigns, including most recently in Spain. However a recent board meeting heard how retention rates of the Spanish nurses were not as high as had been hoped for, with 35 of the original 120 recruited last year already leaving.

It will also offer new rotational posts in a bid to attract more students and newly qualified nurses following feedback from potential workers, and take part in national recruitment campaigns. Seven of the rotational student posts have already been filled.

A CHUFT spokesman said: “In the first half of 2013 the trust started to increase the size of its nursing workforce. By December 31 there were 85 more qualified frontline nurses (FTE) in post than there had been on April 1 that year.

“In March this year, we announced we would be recruiting an additional 31 nurses, including 10 new posts on the Stroke Unit and the same number in the Emergency Department (A&E).

“With approximately 1,500 staff in the nursing workforce, recruitment takes place all-year round. It is proving more difficult to recruit to some specialties than others, including care of the elderly, stroke and the Emergency Department.

“Clearly some of this difficulty is the direct result of expanding the workforce in those areas. In the interim, we are using bank and agency staff.

“Patient safety is our main priority and we work hard to cover any shortfalls in nursing staff by using staff flexibly, using bank staff and recruiting. If need be we close beds if we believe we cannot staff a ward safely.”

He added the vacancy percentage for nursing and midwifery staff in May was 8.3%.

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