Pledge to boost nursing numbers at Norfolk hospital

Queen Elizabeth Hospital, King's Lynn.

Queen Elizabeth Hospital, King's Lynn. - Credit: IAN BURT

Nursing numbers at an under-fire Norfolk hospital will be restored by the start of the winter following a recruitment drive, bosses pledged yesterday.

Officials from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn were quizzed by councillors over ongoing concerns about the quality of services and the state of the NHS trust's finances following warnings from two health regulators.

Inspectors from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) found the acute hospital to be failing essential standards of care following three visits in May and Monitor has raised its concerns about the financial viability of the trust.

Patricia Wright, chief executive of the QEH, said that the main concerns of the CQC related to low staffing numbers and that the hospital had 70 nursing vacancies in April.

She told members of the Norfolk Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee yesterday that the trust was struggling to recruit nurses trained in the UK and the hospital had hired 36 nurses from Portugal in June and July and another 35 were joining the trust in November and December. She added that an additional 40 healthcare assistants recruited from the local area were also joining the hospital and a nurse consultant had also been hired to boost staffing numbers at A&E.

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'There are simply not enough nurses being trained in the UK and the bar is being raised by the CQC with expectations on nursing levels. We have recruited from the Philippines and Spain and we are very pleased with the Portuguese nurses because the level of training in Portugal is more akin with our standards,' she said. Ms Wright added that the hospital had put in place a nurse to patient ratio of eight to one during the day and one to 11 at night to help maintain levels of care.

'Since 2008 we have recruited over 200 additional staff and most of them are nursing staff and throughout last year whilst we were making efficiency savings, no nursing posts were frozen. We had a bunch of band five nurses moving on and some retiring nurses and we made some changes to shift patterns and some staff left,' she said.

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Nigel Legg, who was chairing yesterday's meeting, said he was concerned about the financial issues of the QEH and how that squared with the need to take on more staff.

David Stonehouse, director of resources, said the trust was having to make £10m of efficiency savings a year. He added that the hospital planned to make a £1.6m surplus last year, but made a £800,000 deficit. He added that the trust had commissioned a firm to identify any further efficiencies. However, there was no plan to close services at the QEH.

'Monitor are increasingly concerned about the financial sustainability of our hospital going forward. I think a lot of small district general hospitals are facing these issues and we are one of the organisations at the forefront of this problem,' he said.

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