Independent MP John Woodcock has said a block on recruitment at Morecambe bay health trust because of a cash squeeze makes a recent government promise of a new hospital for the people of Barrow and Furness ring hollow.
Mr Woodcock, who has long campaigned for improved services at Furness General Hospital, said: “This is the real story of financial strain for our hospitals impacting patients and staff right now and it shouldn’t be obscured by vague promises of a ‘new hospital’ that is actually nothing of the sort yet.”
A freeze on banding reviews and administration workers’ overtime has also been imposed.
Mr Woodcock continued: “Admin staff aren’t faceless pen pushers – they are the vital workers that book operations, free up vital beds by helping discharge people, and allow nurses and doctors to spend more time on the frontline caring for patients.
“So this recruitment freeze, made necessary by the government ordering the trust reduce its spending deficit, may undermine the vital task of gearing up for winter. Patients across Morecambe bay deserve a fuller explanation from the chief executive who only last week was falling over himself to trumpet the government’s phantom hospital promise as if the trust didn’t have a spending care in the world.”
Mr Woodcock’s remarks came after Morecambe Bay NHS trust disclosed a raft of new measures that are being taken to “support safety, operational and financial performance, productivity and experience.”
These include the introduction of automatic number plate recognition technology on trust car parks (with a more consistenly-enforced penalty system; limiting the amount of time spent on main tenance across its sites; an instruction for doctors to minimise clinical audit and administration time and the closure of two day case theatres at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary.
Aaron Cummins, Chief Executive of University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust (UHMBT), said: “We remain, happy and positive about the Government’s recent announcement to include the Trust in the process for preparing bids for substantially improving our hospital and community facilities, providing local people and colleagues with the facilities they deserve.
“Some of our hospital buildings pre-date 1800. They are inefficient and need to be replaced and upgraded urgently. We do, however, require more urgent capital funding of approximately £34million to cover the replacement of a CT scanner, refurbishment of two theatres, a boiler house upgrade and asbestos removal. We are waiting on NHS Improvement to respond to our capital loan bid.
“We would welcome any intervention and further support from our local MPs in turning this into a reality for their constituents.
“The Trust is facing a financial planned deficit of £60million this year. This is not sustainable in the longer term therefore we do need to make some difficult decisions to keep costs under control.
“Some of our deficit is as a result of our relentless focus of providing safe staffing levels; we won’t compromise on the safety of our services.
“Our ‘non-patient’ facing support staff are an essential and valued part of providing clinical care. Without them we cannot function, however in some areas we can be much more efficient and make better use of technology and different ways of working.
“While we work through these opportunities we have taken a responsible and prudent approach to control non-clinical recruitment. We also know that in comparison to our peer hospitals, many of our non-clinical functions are adequately staffed.
“What is clear is that clinical ward staff levels do impact on patient safety and quality of care. As a Board we remain committed to having safe staffing levels on all of our hospital wards. I am really pleased that, to date, this year will see more registered nurses joining UHMBT than any year in the previous six years.
“Based on nurses who started earlier this year and booked start dates, we will have 178.81 whole time equivalent nurses starting this year – that is 127.11 that have already started and 51.7 due to commence in the next six months. That’s 12 more than last year and there is potential for it to be higher so this is great news.
“We have frozen the recruitment and ‘regrading’ of non-clinical staff for an initial three month period, however there is no ‘freeze’ on clinical recruitment.
“All non-clinical vacancies will be assessed for any potential impact on quality and safety as a result of not recruiting to the post. We are also redirecting Nursing Managers back to providing ‘hands on’ patient care and our doctors to reducing administrative time. Both measures will help to reduce some of the reliance on temporary agency staff.”