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Nurse recruitment struggle at hospital

West Suffolk Hospital Bury St Edmunds''Picture Mark Westley
West Suffolk Hospital Bury St Edmunds''Picture Mark Westley

Nurses are under pressure at West Suffolk Hospital due to struggles filling a high number of job vacancies.

The equivalent of nearly 100 registered nurse posts are currently vacant, with West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust saying recruitment is a national problem it is ‘not immune to’.

And while the hospital confirmed Brexit had made EU recruitment ‘noticeably more difficult’, it has recently appointed 55 nurses from the Philippines which it hopes will alleviate the pressure in the next few months.

A report to the trust’s board meeting today says there are ‘significant vacancies’ in the numbers of registered nurses, with the equivalent of more than 95 full-time posts currently unfilled.

The report lists 23 areas across the trust, including wards, A&E, theatres and maternity, facing staffing pressures.

In almost all areas there is high agency/bank staff use and a high rate of vacancies in many areas, while there are high sickness rates and overtime in more than half.

Jan Bloomfield, executive director workforce and communications at West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, said the trust aimed to avoid using agency staff where possible by recruiting permanent nursing staff.

“We want to spend our money wisely,” she said. “However, patient care is our priority and if agency staff are needed to ensure a high-quality service we use them.

“We offer staff overtime where appropriate, to minimise the use of agency and bank staff, to help ease staffing pressures and maintain safe staffing levels.”

In February, 4,546 hours of overtime were reported across the trust, while there was a sickness rate of 5.71 per cent, which is over the trust’s 3.5 per cent standard.

In March, the overtime figure had increased to 4,814 hours, while the overall sickness rate reduced to 5.22 per cent.

Mrs Bloomfield said: “Our staff’s health and wellbeing is of paramount importance to us. Recently we have seen some higher than average nursing sickness rates, but these are correlated to high instances of viral illnesses that our patients have experienced in recent months.

“We conduct return to work interviews and manage sickness on a one-to-one basis to ensure staff are supported and looked after and to monitor any issues.”

Rowan Procter, executive chief nurse, said at the last board meeting that the number of registered nurse vacancies was the highest the trust had ever had. While Stephen Dunn, chief executive, said there was ongoing operational pressure, with staff continuing to feel the pressure and staffing remaining an issue.

The trust said it was trying to mitigate the recruitment difficulties caused by Brexit by attracting more people to nursing through welcome and retention initiatives, as well as return to nursing and recommend a friend schemes.

It also has a new nursing apprenticeship scheme starting in September.

n The board is set to discuss the situation at its public meeting today, at the hospital’s Quince House at 9.15am.

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