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Northumbria hospital nurses work for free to tackle A&E pressures


Hospital nurses at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust have been working “heroic” unpaid shifts to help cope with A&E pressures this winter, its chief executive has revealed.

Clinicians and managers volunteered to work on their days off as the trust struggled to deal with high numbers of A&E attendances and an increase in elderly people being admitted to hospital, chief executive Jim Mackey told MPs.

Speaking as part of an evidence session with the health select committee this week about the ongoing strain on emergency departments, Mr Mackey paid tribute to the “heroic” shifts that his staff had worked in previous weeks.

“We had some absolute heroic shifts off clinicians and managers working virtually round the clock”

Jim Mackey

He said: “We had some absolute heroic shifts off clinicians and managers working virtually round the clock, often coming in unpaid to do what they needed to do.”

Mr Mackey said the trust’s number of admissions jumped by around 50% on some days – from an average of 80 people to 120 on 27 December.

“Normally in a year you would have a few days or maybe a couple of weeks that are hard but this time it went on for several weeks.

“The system just had to work really, really hard to manage to get on top of that,” he added.

The trust would normally “comfortably exceed” the NHS four-hour waiting target for 95% of patients from arrival to admission, transfer or discharge, said Mr Mackey, who said his staff usually saw around 97% of people within this timeframe.

“We did struggle over Christmas so we didn’t achieve our usual high performance standards,” he said.

Peter Carter

He warned that more needed to be done around national workforce planning and training enough staff in acute and other settings because “you can’t work 20 hours a day for very long”.

The Royal College of Nursing said willingness of staff to work for free demonstrated their dedication to the job, but warned this was being exploited by the government.

“Unfortunately, NHS staff coming to work early and leaving late to care for patients is not unusual, it has become the daily reality for too many staff at too many hospitals,” said RCN chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter.

He added: “The government has taken a cavalier approach to the current A&E crisis, relying on the goodwill of staff to fill the gaps left by cuts and responding to concerns about patient safety with empty rhetoric.”

“NHS staff coming to work early and leaving late to care for patients is not unusual, it has become the daily reality for too many”

Peter Carter

A spokeswoman for Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust said: “With extremely high numbers of A&E attendances and poorly elderly people requiring admission to hospital, there were occasions when members of staff – both clinical and managerial – voluntarily came into work in order to ensure our patients were treated as quickly as possible and in the appropriate setting.

“This demonstrates the commitment and dedication of our staff who in times of intense pressures pulled out all the stops to ensure continuity of care for our patients. They are a credit to our organisation and the NHS.”


Readers' comments (28)

  • fine don't cry wolf when they start taking money of you to make ends meet or is it being a marter your only a number at the end of the day . don't worry they will get the army in that what they do when thay cant get anyone else see we are humans and can be preswaded or bribed.

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  • I'm guessing the previous comment should read 'can't be persuaded', not 'can be'

    It's a shame. Comments lose their impact if they're spelled badly and miss vital letters out.

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  • More fool them...

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  • While it is commendable that staff have come in to do extra shifts, it is not acceptable that they should not be paid. This is a cost pressure caused by demand, this needs to be passed up the line and staffing levels reviewed.
    ALSO, be very careful, staff working too many hours, mistakes will happen and then when sued the nurses will be on their own, sacked for making a mistake and unable to afford to defend themselves and unable to get another job.
    This extra demand needs to be managed and paid for and reliance on willing souls should not be more than a one off.

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  • Making a rod for their own backs!! I would not work for free, good will and all that does not pay the bills im afraid :( By doing this you simpky mask the issues that will still be there when staff wisen up and stop working for nothing.

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  • Well said all 11:32s

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  • Mr Mackey !

    What a disgraceful remark !

    PAY overtime rates NOW

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  • Not a goodwill gesture I'd be happy to do!
    And yet while these trusts are commending staff, the government are still hoping to take our unsociable hours away! It disgusts me! I think we should look at the sickness policy! Whilst some people obviously genuinely do need the sick time off, there are far too many NHS employees that are taking the pi$$ with this policy and that is needing addressed! Perhaps if we cut paying staff full pay for 6 months were on the sick and reduce it to 4 weeks, there'd be a helluva lot more NHS workers back to work!!!!

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  • ^^^^ (above comment)There are very few 'perks' to working for the NHS but sick pay is one of them.. I do agree that people do take advantage at times but i for one would be furious if it was reduced to 4 weeks. It is peace of mind that if for any reason you cant be at work you will not be evicted from your house! We dont get bonuses that some other companies get or paid in accordance to performance so i think the least we deserve is sick pay....

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  • Commendable, yes, but we are not doing ourselves any favours in the long term. I know we don't want patient care to suffer, but all the time we put ourselves in this situation the Government will do nothing to address the situation of high demand for treatment and staffing levels.
    Shame on the Trust for not offering to pay these people that offered to work over and above their normal working hours.

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