Queen Elizabeth Hospital will hire more temporary nurses in bid to avoid closing beds and cancelling operations

Emergency measures to address staffing shortfalls at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital was discussed at a

Emergency measures to address staffing shortfalls at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital was discussed at a meeting. Photo: QEH - Credit: QEH

Hospital bosses have agreed to take on more temporary nurses in a bid to avoid closing wards and cancelling operations.

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn was placed in special measures earlier this month, after inspectors from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) rated it “inadequate”.

They said improvements were needed in urgent and emergency care, maternity and medical care.

A report to board members, who met on Tuesday, said: “The ongoing nurse staffing shortage at the QEHKL has to be considered a factor in the staff’s ability to consistently deliver safe and effective care, as highlighted in the trust’s CQC inspection report of September 2018.

“There is therefore a need to urgently review the current nursing resource and review the options available to ensure patient safety is not compromised either in the immediate, short or longer term.”

Options on the table included employing agency nurses to plug shortfalls, which were running at more than 40pc on some wards.

Necton Ward, which should have 27 nurses has 12 vacancies. Stanhoe Ward, which should have 25 nurses, has 11 vacancies. Agency nurses have worked an average of 110 shifts a week over the last three weeks, the report says.

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Closing Marham surgical ward was also considered. The move would put elective surgery on hold including operations for cancer patients, who would have to travel to other hospitals for treatment.

Closing a medical ward was also proposed, with patients transferring to other wards.

A “hybrid option” which would increase staffing and allow cancer and other urgent operations to continue by closing 24 beds on two wards used by non-emergency patients to free up nurses was also listed.

Option 4 was preferred by the board. The meeting heard closing wards would have “quite serious ramifications”.

Non-executive director Prof Ian Harvey said: “We have to accept the CQC’s diagnosis that nursing numbers in some departments were inadequate.

“Option 4 meets the objective of meeting immediate staffing concerns but with flexibility.”

But hospital governors, who met before the meeting, supported the first option, the board was told.

Members agree to adopt Option 1, with Option 4 - some bed closures being applied in “a flexible way” - until nursing rotas were full.

Earlier, the chief executive Jon Green said the CQC had raised “immediate concerns” about staffing levels at the QEH. Chief nurse Emma Hardwick said there were currently around 130 vacancies.

The QEH hopes to recruit 25 extra nurses by the end of December and a further 60 by the end of March.

Non-executive director Prof Mandy Ashdown said the hospital currently had 50 “long-stoppers” at any time - the equivalent of two wards lost to bed-blocking.

More than 100 staff attended the packed meeting. Trust chair Edward Libbey invited them to comment before the vote.

One said lack of pay rises had led to low morale and people leaving.

“HR probably needs some support,” he added. “When we interview someone, a new nurse, it takes two months to appoint them because all the checks and hoops you have to go through.”

Another colleague added: “I find it unbelievable the fact we’ve been here for an hour and half and no-one’s mentioned funding. The real problem at the bottom of this is we haven’t got enough funding.”