Numbers of nurses on more than four out 10 wards at Northampton General Hospital are at concerning levels , its director of nursing has said.
Patients’ safety has not been at risk over the issue, Jane Bradley said, but the reliance on the fluctuating availability of agency staff – who mostly prefer to work the lucrative bank holiday and night shifts – means NGH often cannot staff all the available hours.
As a result, NGH holds two safety meetings every day to allocate nurses to the wards where they are most needed, such as wards with mentally ill or acutely sick people, to ensure safe levels of care are maintained.
In October, 11 of its 26 wards had less than 80 per cent of the requested hours filled by nurses, which is the hospital’s minimum target.
Mrs Bradley said: “Of course this is a concern, there’s been a great demand on temporary workforce in the past month and I’m sure this month’s figures will be the same.
“No ward is unsafe, but it’s the reliance on temporary staffing I’m concerned about.”
Not only do agencies fail to meet the shortfall in permanent nurses, they are among the chief concerns of NGH’s finance chiefs.
Mrs Bradley said: “The temporary staffing agencies are absolutely capitalising on the situation and they’ve got the NHS over a barrel.
“We try to use a framework of agencies with the agreed lower prices as much as possible, but when you’re forced to go off-framework they are extortionately expensive.
“As hospitals, we’re all fishing in the same sea and that pushes prices up.
“It’s a seller’s market and that’s what we are up against.”
Mrs Bradley said some of the wards were just below the 80 per cent staffing threshold in October and at least nine others were above 99 per cent. However, she stressed she wants every ward above 80 per cent.
Up against her, though, are the facts that agencies are both unreliable and expensive.
But perhaps a bigger long-term issue is they do not provide a source of staff whose first and foremost concern is being part of the NHS.
Mrs Bradley said: “I don’t want people who come here for financial gain rather than to look after our patients.
“The sitaution I want is having to use no agency staff at all.”
VACANCIES ARE EQUAL TO 134 FULL-TIME NURSES
There were 127 whole time equivalent nursing posts vacant at NGH as of October. ‘Golden hellos’ by private firms on completion of training have been cited by NHS Northamptonshire Healthcare as draining nurses away from the NHS. However, NGH is more significantly up against the attractive flexibility and high pay per hour of agency work. Although not ideal as many foreign nurses leave for London after just a year, permanent staff are being recruited from abroad. Small but effective initiatives such as branded uniforms and bringing back a wearable NGH badge, are also intended to make part-time staff feel part of the NGH team.