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”
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.
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”
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.”