A new ward opened at the Royal Sussex to treat trauma and orthopaedic patients on Sunday – but union bosses have warned that it may put too much pressure on the hospital’s already overstretched nursing staff.
The Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs the hospital, has a nursing vacancy rate of 11.45%, with 295 posts unfilled last December, up from 10% in August – although less than the national rate of 11.8% and south of England rate of 12.9%.
The new 18-bed ward on level 11 of the Kemp Tower is part of the ongoing investment programme which as well as rebuilding large parts of the hospital site will increase the number of patients the trust treats in Brighton.
The trust says it should help staff in other departments and ease pressure on A&E. Other measures to allow patients ready for discharge to leave hospital more quickly are also being put in place.
However, GMB said the trust should have waited until it had recruited enough staff before opening the ward, as its existing staff are already “at breaking point”.
Dr George Findlay, chief medical officer for Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust said: “Opening this ward will increase the number of beds we have which will allow us to treat patients more quickly and help ease pressure on our busy Emergency Departments.
“More importantly this will help us improve the experience of our patients by ensuring they are in the right place to receive the most appropriate specialist care.
“The opening of the ward is also in line with our broader plans to increase the number of patients we look after while improving their journey through our hospitals, from admission to discharge. This will also support our staff, making it easier for them to continue to deliver outstanding care.”
A trust spokeswoman said the ward was being staffed with a mixture of newly recruited and redeployed nursing staff.
The trust is also working with community partners on a range of measures to help medically ready patients leave hospital sooner, including improving discharge processes so patients can get home earlier in the day, increasing homecare support, the number of community beds and services supporting patient discharges.
Gary Palmer, GMB Regional Organiser said: “Opening further beds to assist clearing A&E’s and other hospital admissions is of course admirable. But if in doing so you aren’t able to secure additional nursing staff to look after those increased patient numbers, and instead put additional stresses and strains upon a work force already operating at capacity and beyond, it is both madness and dangerous to both patients and staff safety.
“This cannot be seen as an effective strategy but rather as an act of desperation, which we believe will, unfortunately, impact negatively on patient care, staff morale, and the retention of staff.
“In exceptional circumstances for the short term, where due to unpredictable factors there is a crisis in staffing, then it is reasonable for the Trust to request that staff assist in covering another area in the hospital, providing that staff are not asked to work outside of their competency and are not asked to put at risk those patients who are already in their care.
“If they move areas and the GMB’s concern is that the Trust push nursing staff, whose natural approach will be to try to do their absolute best to accommodate the requests on behalf of the patients needing their support, to work under such conditions that it risks their professional reputations and registrations, health and patient care, and is a worrying gamble, that BSUH seem happy to take with their plan to increase bed availability going forward.
“For everyone else it’s a potential incident just waiting to happen.”