Staff shortages force closure of hospital beds
INPATIENT beds at Alston hospital will temporarily close later this month because of a difficulty in recruiting new nursing staff.
Hospital campaigners have argued that it is difficult to attract qualified nurses to the area because the beds were threatened with possible permanent closure under the Success Regime consultation covering community hospitals in Alston, Penrith and Keswick.
Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the hospital, said it was unable to safely staff the ward 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The beds closure is set to begin on the week beginning Monday, 17th April, because, despite a national recruitment campaign, there continues to be registered nursing vacancies and the staffing situation has now become unsustainable. The situation will be reviewed on a monthly basis.
A trust spokesman said staff at Alston had been going “above and beyond their normal call of duty for some considerable time” in order to maintain safe staffing levels for the ward.
This included cancelling planned holidays and working on days off, as well as doing extra hours on an ongoing basis. Qualified trust managers were also covering shifts to keep the service running.
However, this had led to a reduction in the Alston community service in order to maintain the beds, which was not a sustainable position.
To minimise the closure of the six hospital beds, staff will remain in Alston to deliver a more comprehensive community based service enabling more people to receive the care they need at home.
During the beds closure staff will also continue to run a nurse-led treatment centre, an outpatient department and a day hospital from the hospital premises.
Jane Mayes, an Alston community hospital campaigner, said this was not the first temporary closure of beds and nurses could be reluctant to apply for the vacancies because of the long-term uncertainty.
She added: “It is a self-fulfilling prophecy — they can’t get staff to come to Alston, including moving here, because the beds are under a death sentence.”
Ms Mayes, of Hill House Farm, said that during the shortfall staff members could be moved to Alston from other areas to keep the beds open.
She added: “There are two kinds of staff presumably — those who choose to live and work in Alston and those who are directed to work there, for example bank or pool nurses. There is no transparency about how and why bank nurses are not being sent to Alston; surely it’s not too far to ask them to travel if Alston people are being asked to travel further to receive treatment?”
Rory Stewart, the MP for Penrith and the Border, said: “I am very concerned. This is a question of recruitment making sure that we can convince qualified NHS nurses that Alston is a great place to work and live.”
He said the Alston community were “fiercely proud of their area” and they wanted to encourage people to come and work there. He added: “We need to put a strong call out for anyone that is interested in working in a wonderful community to come forward.”
Dr. Craig Melrose, the trust’s associate medical director, said remaining patients would continue to be cared for until they were discharged.
He added: “The staff will then provide an enhanced community service, moving from the existing five-day-a-week 8am until 4pm service to a seven-day-a-week 8am until 11pm service.
“The longer operating hours of the community services mean that those needing care can stay in their own homes and the nursing and rehabilitative treatments can be brought to them.
“This will enable us to give highly individualised care to people who need our support and interventions. We will also be able to provide support to the carers who are looking after the patients we are involved with, which we know is a concern across Cumbria as many people can become short term or long term carers with the associated risks to their own health and well-being.
“Staff will be able to visit people in their own homes in the Alston area and offer more input than they currently can for a range of health conditions, this can help negate the need for a hospital admission.
“Only the inpatient beds are affected — the nurse-led treatment centre and the day hospital will remain open, and the GP surgery and any outpatient appointments are also unaffected.
“This is a temporary position that we will be reviewing on a monthly basis and we will reopen the beds when we are able to safely staff the ward again.”
Dr. Melrose said the trust has met with community representatives, to explain the position in detail, and they are keen to help with recruitment of nurses for the area.
He added: “We remain optimistic as we continue to recruit to vacant posts and are extremely grateful to the community groups who have agreed to support an innovative new recruitment campaign to promote Alston.
“We appeal to the wider community to help us and welcome ideas to support this recruitment. We want to use the passion of the community to drive this forward.”
As part of the Healthcare for the Future public consultation, it was agreed to close the inpatient beds at Alston hospital. However, the trust has been clear that there will not be any permanent closures of beds until alternatives in the community are in place.
The work to develop alternatives to community bed provision, as agreed in the consultation, is a separate piece of work and will continue alongside these temporary arrangements which have been implemented because of current safety concerns.
Dr. Melrose added: “We must be clear that Alston hospital and the community services in the area have a long term and exciting future and any new staff will be actively encouraged to join the work to redesign services for the people of Alston Moor and to continue to develop excellent services for the local population.”
The trust is preparing to reopen beds at Workington Hospital this month to minimise the impact of closing community beds across west, north and east Cumbria.w