As hospitals plunge into crisis with soaring numbers of patients, it’s been revealed Spalding’s Johnson Community Hospital is keeping four beds empty because it can’t recruit enough staff.
The hospital has only 32 beds – four dedicated to end of life care, which are occupied – and 28 for general use on Welland Ward.
News of the “closed beds” on Welland Ward emerged on Thursday when the Free Press questioned bosses at Lincolnshire Community Health Services NHS Trust (LCHST). On the same day, our sister paper, the Spalding Guardian, revealed Spalding’s nearest acute hospital, Pilgrim at Boston, has had a 28-bed ward shut for 14 months.
LCHST said it closed “a number of beds” in September 2013 – without saying precisely how many – and the decision was taken in conjunction with national guidance by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) on “safer staffing levels for inpatient wards”.
Sue Cousland, LCHST chief nurse/director of operations said; “We have been actively recruiting for staff but in the Spalding area it continues to prove difficult to recruit to certain posts. Beds have been reopened incrementally as we have been able to recruit.
“In addition to recruitment challenges, the trust is actively discussing with commissioners the best use of beds for patient care to ensure we can deliver the safest possible care at all times.”
United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust, which runs the acute hospitals in Boston, Grantham and Lincoln, declared a “black alert” last week as its services were stretched by soaring numbers of patients.
LCHST is bidding to ease that crisis by opening the Johnson Hospital Minor Injuries Unit (MIU) to patients with minor illnesses until the end of the month – diverting some patients away from accident and emergency (A&E) – and by going in to the acute hospitals to help discharge patients.
Ms Cousland said the trust “has suspended all normal activity and non-urgent work until further notice” to “ensure patients receive appropriate care from experienced community nurses wherever they may be in the system currently”.
She said: “We have supported an average of a further 45 complex discharges home per day over and above those we would normally see in the South Holland area.”
Specialist teams are also helping to avoid unnecessary clinical admissions into hospital and to assess patients and arrange additional care and support at home to avoid inappropriate attendance at A&E departments.
Ms Cousland said: “We have extended the service provided at the Minor Injuries Unit at the Johnson Community Hospital to include minor illnesses with effect from Friday, January 9, until the end of the month in the first instance.
“The types of minor illnesses which can be dealt with are ear and throat infections, minor skin infections/rashes, minor eye conditions/infections, stomach upsets and coughs, colds and flu-like symptoms. The unit is open from 8am to 6pm every day. Our out of hours service, which is linked to NHS 111, operates when GP services are closed.
“We have put additional GPs and nurse practitioners into the service and have deployed four additional cars to accommodate the increasing requirement for home visits. We will continue to review need and work with health and social care partners to provide an appropriate response.”