Overseas nurses are being targeted to fill vacancies at north Cumbria’s hospitals.
It is just one of a series of measures being taken to improve staffing levels at the Cumberland Infirmary, Carlisle, and West Cumberland Hospital, Whitehaven.
Chris Platton, acting director of nursing and quality, said they are looking to take on trained nurses from Spain and Portugal. This will be done via a specialist recruitment agency, as has already happened in other parts of the country. She recently sent a chief matron down to a hospital in Birmingham to meet their Spanish and Portuguese recruits and speak to staff working with them. They are now pushing forward with the plan, with a minimum of 30 vacant posts identified to date. She added that they have also been advertising nationally for staff, including targeting nurses who have been made redundant as a result of armed forces budget cuts.
In a bid to prevent future staffing shortages, Mrs Platton added that they are also taking on trainee nurses once they are qualified, even if they are not immediate vacancies, to retain skills in Cumbria.
Meanwhile, they are building up a strong contingent of bench and bank nurses who can be brought in to cover sickness and holidays. Agency staff will also be used, but only when absolutely necessary.
All of these efforts are part of work to address staffing issues highlighted in the Keogh Review, which flagged up concerns over care.
North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust has since been pushing forward its controversial nursing review, which is nearing completion.
Consultation is now complete and staff are now going through interviews. Unions have expressed concerns that a number of band six staff face being downgraded. Although they will get two years of salary protection, the Royal College of Nursing fears it will lead to a lack of leadership on the wards. But Mrs Platton said they have looked at each ward carefully to get staffing levels right. They will then review it on a six monthly basis to ensure that nursing ratios keep up with demand. Although she is confident it will improve standards in the long run, she accepts it may be difficult for staff: “This is upsetting for staff. We have to recognise that and support them through it.” She stressed that there will be no redundancies.
In fact Mrs Platten said the trust is in the process of investing between £700,000 and £1.1m to improve staffing levels. For those who are downgraded, she said there are a number of more specialised positions were being created which they could apply for and retrain where needed. “We are investing in the development of staff,” she added.