Hospital hit by skills shortage

RICHARD BATSON A diagnostic scanner at a Norfolk hospital is still not in full use 10 months after it “opened” - due to a national shortage of skilled staff to man it.

RICHARD BATSON

A diagnostic scanner at a Norfolk hospital is still not in full use 10 months after it “opened” - due to a national shortage of skilled staff to man it.

Almost a year of advertising for three radiologists has failed to fill vacancies, meaning a new MRI machine at Cromer is only being used at a fraction of its hoped-for capacity.

The scanner, used for checking internal organs and joints, was due to be used two days a week, to save north Norfolk patients long trips to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

It opened in December last year as part of a £1m unit also containing X-ray and ultrasound equipment which is fully in use. But,

after the loss of two qualified and experienced members of staff, attempts to find replacement radiographers for the Norfolk-based team have proved fruitless.

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N&N spokesman Andrew Stronach said it was down to a national shortage of radiographers, which meant “we are competing with every other hospital in the country”.

That was combined with increasing NHS use of privatised services which were attracting staff because of higher wages, and wider problems of attracting staff to East Anglia.

The Norfolk job involves working at Norwich, where there are two scanners, and at Cromer - which handle a total of 9,000 examinations a year.

It is asking for qualified people with three or four years experience and offering a salary range of £21,985 to £31,004. An N&N brochure promoting the area as “the place to live for life” extols the virtues of its countryside, shopping, heritage, along with average house prices which are £143,294 compared with £276,698 in Greater London and £227,250 in the South East.

Mr Stronach said the trust was frustrated at the recruitment problems, but continued to advertise and was still determined to increase use of the Cromer unit.

It was not affecting waiting times for people needing scans, which were falling, but the Cromer scanner would be more convenient for patients in the north of the county.

The Cromer MRI scanner has had a difficult birth. It initially lay unused because of a stalemate between health authorities - the hospital and the former North Norfolk primary care trust - over funding its running costs, before the N&N grasped the nettle and agreed to pay for its operation.

After an official opening in December however it shut again in January with health officials saying recruitment problems were a minor glitch.

Trust chief executive Paul Forden has justified the decision to install the scanner at Cromer, saying it was better than mothballing the machine which used to be at the Norwich hospital, and has assured that its long-term future is sustainable.

The news comes just days after Norwich North MP and cancer expert Dr Ian Gibson urged hospitals to step up the use of MRI scanners to detect the early signs of aggressive breast tumours. A consultant later dismissed the suggestion as “impossible”, saying that MR was already used for high risk cases, but that mammograms were quicker for more routine screening.

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