The Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust has today reluctantly announced that it cannot proceed to reopen 16 inpatient beds at Axminster Hospital at the end of July due to significant emerging staffing shortages.
Alison Diamond, chief executive, said: “We were extremely disappointed to have had to take this decision and know this feeling will be shared by the local community, particularly following the superb efforts by the local clinical team and the community to help us recruit more staff.
“We have all done our best but despite these efforts and the attractiveness of working in this part in Devon, rapidly changing circumstances in the last 10 days have meant we no longer have sufficient registered nurses to allow us to reopen the beds at this time.
“This last-minute change in our staffing position demonstrates just how challenging it is to fill nursing vacancies in the midst of a national skills shortage.
“With the national nursing shortage placing real pressure on our other community services, we cannot open a service knowing it would be reliant on agency staff and/or have an adverse impact on other services in neighbouring towns.”
Having been in a position in June 2015 when over 80% of the Band 5 registered nursing posts for Axminster were being filled by permanent staff, the figure has since dropped to 57.5%.
There are currently 4.27 full-time equivalent vacancies for registered nurses.
Tina Naldrett, assistant director of nursing for community services at the Trust, said: “We have tried our absolute hardest not to be in this position and were initially really successful at bucking the national trend by attracting fantastic candidates to work in our community hospitals.
“Had any of the current staffing changes occurred separately, we could have worked around them.
“To be facing such a staffing shortfall at a time of reopening means the professional nursing leads could not be confident of providing safe and high-quality care to our patients and we advised the Trust to postpone the opening.
“Our first priority is to focus on ensuring the staffing situation is addressed, which ensures that residents of Axminster and Seaton continue to have local access to a community hospital inpatient service.
“We have entered into urgent discussions with the League of Friends and the Axminster Hospital Action Group to share the latest updates and assess our options going forward.”
Steve Holt and Dr James Vann, on behalf of the League of Friends and the Axminster Hospital Action Group, said: “We are very disappointed that the Trust has had to delay the opening of the beds at Axminster at such short notice.
“To date an enormous amount of work has been done by ourselves and the Trust to make the reopening possible.
“This work will continue and we plan to meet again with the Trust team next week.
“I am sure both the public and staff will be very disappointed at this change in plan. As soon as we have a new date we will let you know.”
The Trust has been working with the League of Friends and the Axminster Hospital Action Group since January 2015 to reinstate the inpatient beds using a £300,000 donation from the League of Friends, following a consultation on safer staffing last year.
May 2015: https://www.northdevonhealth.nhs.uk/2015/05/nhs-trust-in-conjunction-with-axminster-league-of-friends-and-action-group-plans-to-reopen-inpatient-beds-at-axminster-community-hospital-in-july-2015/