Wellington Community Hospital is continuing to have problems recruiting nursing staff, with a vacancy rate of 16.04%
Whilst this is lower than the vacancy rate at other community hospitals in Somerset, the issue of continuing shortages of qualified nurses and their retention in the county is causing concern.
At a meeting of Somerset County Council’s Scrutiny of Policies, Adults and Health Committee on Wednesday 5 September, members were presented with an update on current pressures facing community inpatient services. The report stated, “Having reviewed the key indicators and the prospective staffing position for the next three months it is clear that the staffing position remains extremely challenging across the county with some wards experiencing registered nurse vacancy rates between 20% and 30%.”
Somerset Partnership NHS Foundation Trust which operates the 13 Community Hospitals – including Wellington – decided to temporarily close inpatient wards at three of the Trust’s hospitals last year and redeployed staff to other hospitals. In July this year the Trust identified that the staffing position had not improved sufficiently to reopen inpatient wards at Dene Barton and Chard Community Hospitals. Those wards will remain closed until March 2019 at the earliest.
Wellington is one of five other Community Hospitals still experiencing high levels of vacancies. Its in-patient unit is currently closed for essential maintenance work.
The current shortage of nurses is due to a 20% drop in recruitment of people applying to study nursing at university since the removal of the nursing bursary and the introduction of tuition fees. At the same time, the number of qualified nurses recruited from Europe has declined sharply, particularly in community hospitals, due in part to the uncertainties associated with Brexit.
The Trust is now putting contingency plans in place to ensure that community hospitals are staffed safely and sustainably, particularly during the winter months when demand for inpatient care increases.
The report’s conclusion said, “The staffing situation across many of the community hospitals in Somerset remains precarious. The committee is asked to recognise the potential for further contingency options to be enacted on a temporary basis to maintain patient safety.”