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Struggling to attract stroke staff to Boston Pilgrim Hospital to treat south Lincolnshire patients

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Boston's Pilgrim Hospital has not had an application for a stroke consultant in more than eight years - and expensive but rare locum staff are walking away when asked to cover vacancies, Lincolnshire health bosses said.

Consultant Abdul Elmarimi told Lincolnshire County Council Health Scrutiny Committee that stroke staff were “like gold dust,” as he outlined reasons why the county’s stroke services were being rearranged to place Lincoln as a “centre of excellence”.

The move has prompted concerns that vulnerable South Holland patients could be forced to travel up to Lincoln for treatment.

Pilgrim Hospital, Boston. (42971540)
Pilgrim Hospital, Boston. (42971540)

Mr Elmarimi told councillors that nationally there were 676 stroke consultant posts, and 40% of them were vacant. He added that national reviews showed a further 226 positions were required.

“The attractiveness of the job isn’t there. There are people leaving to do other specialities,” he said.

“In real life it is very difficult to get these people, and even now on one site we are struggling to get the quality of people we want to look after our patients.”

Ideally the trust should have seven consultants to run the unit, but pre-Covid it was running three on each site (Boston and Lincoln), said Mr Elmarimi, adding that it was “extremely unattractive for a person to come and be the fourth person, rather than the fifth or sixth”.

“Since I joined we have been advertising for jobs on both sites, but we have not had an applicant for Boston in the eight years I’ve been here,” he said.

“We had three or four applicants and appointed two of them in Lincoln recently on the background that we are moving the service to a shape that is attractive to people who will have five or six colleagues, a better quality of life and a better work-life balance.

“It remains to be seen whether they stay or go given what we have, because these people are like gold dust and people are enticing them with all sorts of things. We can’t guarantee anyone will stay more than three months.”

He later told councillors that getting locum staff to cover Boston was also proving difficult.

“Two of them just walked off when we said we need people to come and work in Boston not in Lincoln, they just didn’t turn up the next day. They didn’t want to go there. So it is unfortunate, but this is what we have. This is what we have to work with.”

Despite reassurances that the centre of excellence would provide enough beds, enable staff to be specialists and constantly practice their skills, and that data showed no patients had missed clot treatments due to travel times, councillors were unconvinced that a central site would be safe.

Councillors said more information and data was needed on ambulance times and other options such as mobile stroke units going forward.

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