Hospitals working with ‘unsafe’ staffing

Pilgrim Hospital at Boston, which is operating with 'unsafe' levels of staff.
Pilgrim Hospital at Boston, which is operating with 'unsafe' levels of staff.
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One of the main hospitals used by people in Spalding and South Holland is under fire from the Care Quality Commission for operating with an “unsafe” level of staff.

Pilgrim Hospital at Boston is one of 17 hospitals named by the commission for having too few staff and the major health service workers’ union, Unison, says staff shortages are a long standing problem at Pilgrim.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt expects “swift action” to be taken by those named and has backed a call by nursing leaders for all hospitals to publish staffing levels twice a year and the evidence to support them.

The United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust, which runs Pilgrim, declined to reveal staffing levels for a year ago when this newspaper asked for “then and now” figures.

We also asked if the trust considers the present staffing level to be safe – and whether the trust will publish staff numbers twice a year.

Trust communications officer Anna Temple said: “We review staffing levels on our wards on a daily basis and, where necessary, we use bank and agency staff to ensure safe staffing levels.

“The story we are talking about is based on an inspection the CQC did at Pilgrim in December 2011, and we have recruited additional staff since then.

“We currently have 2,066 whole time equivalent staff at Pilgrim, and have had some 354 new starters in the last calendar year. Obviously some of these will replace people who have left in the year, but some will be additional too.

“We are planning to publish our staffing levels as suggested by Jeremy Hunt.”

Pilgrim Hospital made news in July 2011 after the Nursing and Midwifery Council pulled around 100 student nurses out of the hospital.

Unison spokesman Peter Savage said staffing levels were a part of the problem at that time because there were insufficient staff at the hospital to deliver proper training.

He said: “Staffing is a problem right across the NHS to be honest, but I think Pilgrim is at the extreme end of that.”

Mr Savage said there are 6,000 fewer nurses nationally now compared to the time of the General Election.

He said one of Pilgrim’s problems is that it is so remote and finds it difficult to pull in people from the outside.

The Care Quality Commission also criticised unsafe staffing at The Cavell Centre, Peterborough, which is run by the Cambridge and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust, and Stamford and Rutland Hospital.

Chris Wilkinson, director of care quality and chief nurse at Stamford and Rutland Hospital, said steps have been taken to “ensure appropriate nurse staffing levels and care standards for patients” and staff levels are monitored daily.