A growing number of hospitals are seeking to recruit hundreds of extra nurses to ensure the safety of patients, against a national backdrop of cuts, it has emerged.
Nursing Times has identified a number of acute hospitals that have reversed bed reductions and begun attempts to increase nurse staffing to ensure they can deliver safe quality care.
Trusts are blaming the continued rise in demand for acute services and increasing complexity of patient conditions, despite government policy being to move more care into community settings.
The moves also follow a widespread squeeze on nursing posts across the country, as managers struggle to meet savings targets imposed on them by regulators and the Department of Health.
According to NHS figures, between May 2010 and 2012, the nursing workforce shrank by almost 5,000.
A review by London’s Guy’s and St Thomas’ Foundation Trust has found an “overall shortfall” on staffing of 111. A report presented to the last meeting of the trust’s board said “immediate action” was required to fill 30 vacancies in the medicine and elderly care departments.
Nursing Times has identified a surge in recruitment in particular across the Midlands.
In the west of the region, the University Hospital of North Staffordshire is to recruit an extra 100 nurses after being forced to keep 130 beds open for the next five years due to a rise in demand.
Meanwhile, following a workforce review, the Royal Wolverhampton Hospitals Trust is to spend almost £1m recruiting 18 band five staff nurses, six band two night staff. This would create a qualified to unqualified staff ratio of 70:30.
To the east, Nottingham University Hospitals Trust is spending more than £4m to open 80 new beds and employ 120 more staff, after a surge in emergency demand meant it had to cancel an unprecedented number of operations.
The University Hospitals of Leicester is the most recent trust to reveal a shortage of nurses on its wards.
Reviews carried out in September and March found significant shortages across the trust, with particular gaps in musculoskeletal, cardio-respiratory, cancer, and women’s and children’s services. -
To fill the gaps the trust estimated it would need to spend £2.8m, but only £2m has so far been identified. This will be spent on recruiting a total of 42 qualified nurses and 25 healthcare assistants, which will create a qualified to unqualified staff ratio of 65:30.
The trust’s director of nursing Carole Ribbins said: “The acuity of patients and the dependency of patients has been increasing. We have had wards where the youngest patient has been 90-years-old.”
She said all new staff would be in place before the winter, adding: “I’m confident we have safe staffing levels to provide high quality patient care. We have done a very thorough review and we owe that to our staff and our patients.”
Jim Buchan, professor of health sciences at Edinburgh’s Queen Margaret University and an expert in nursing workforce, told Nursing Times that “some employers are now feeling the staffing pinch”.
He said it could take four years to boost nursing numbers from within the UK, noting that in the short-term trusts may have to consider recruiting from European Union countries.
The government’s Transforming Community Services programme, which officially ended in 2011, was partly intended to lead to a shift in much of the work done in acute settings into the community, but patient attendance at hospitals has stubbornly continued to increase in most areas, as has the acuity of those being admitted.
Professor Buchan added: “With average patient acuity increasing in many hospital wards as a result of the efficiency drive to reduce lengths of stay, trusts will have to be confident they monitor changing staffing requirements.
“It will not just be about having more nursing hours to deploy, it will be necessary to have the right skills. Trusts will have to get smarter at matching variable workload to the right staffing and skills levels.”
However, attempts by these trusts to recruit more nurses come in contrast to Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust in west Kent, which has revealed this month that it has offered all of its staff voluntary redundancy as it struggles to save around £20m this year.
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