Hospital bosses have broken a national pay cap after one of their A&E departments was brought to the brink of closure by acute staff shortages.
Lancashire’s hospital trust has so many unfilled vacancies that it was nearing the point where it would not have been able to safely operate A&E departments at both Royal Preston and Chorley and South Ribble hospitals.
But at the last moment trust bosses decided that they would breach a national pay cap on agency staff – brought in by the government – in order to get the staff they need.
Karen Partington, chief executive of Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which also runs Royal Preston Hospital, said: “We have not taken any decision to close the emergency department at either of our hospitals. I can, however, confirm that we are currently facing significant staff shortages within our medical workforce. Whilst we have continued to recruit to our vacancies, a number of factors including national shortages in emergency department doctors and the recent introduction of capped agency rates have affected our ability to fully staff our emergency departments at both hospitals.
“Patient safety is our top priority and we are now in a position where we are struggling to staff both of our emergency departments. We have initially taken the decision to breach the national agency cap in an attempt to secure immediate medical staff cover to prevent patient safety issues. We will be working with the senior clinical team and our commissioners to consider all the options available to us to enable us to continue to provide safe care on both sites.”
Pete Smith, branch secretary for Unison Central Lancashire Health Branch, said: “Due to the continuing imposition of savage cuts by this government including unrealistic agency cap rates, junior doctors contracts and attacks on unsocial hours payments doctors and others are viewing the NHS as a less attractive career choice which means we are now seeing shortages across all healthcare professions. The trust’s current situation is due, in part, to this shortage and Unison and its members within the trust are working together to support the trust in maintaining the services. Unison is extremely concerned at the long-term effects these shortages are having on the ability to continue to deliver services across the two sites and at the effects chronic staff shortages have on patient safety. We will be asking to meet with local MPs and representatives of the trust to discuss these issues and will continue in its campaigns for a free at the point of need, properly funded, publicly-owned NHS.”
A British Medical Association spokesman said: “The NHS is under incredible pressure from rising patient demand, stagnating funding and staff shortages. Services in hospitals and GP practices are buckling under this strain across the country, including in the North West. We need the government to wake up to the reality facing our health service and properly invest in the NHS so that patients get the care they deserve.”
A spokesman from the CCGs in Chorley, South Ribble and Greater Preston said: “We are aware of some of the staffing shortage challenges that Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and in turn many NHS providers across the region are experiencing, and we are working closely with the trust to support them with this.”