Saturday, 31 October 2015

Unsafe hospitals and low pay in the NHS

A couple of weeks ago, I heard on the radio that a report by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) has been published which described three quarters of NHS hospitals as unsafe. I work for an NHS Community Trust which was inspected recently by the CQC - we got good marks on everything except patient safety in our bed-based units (community hospitals) for which it was found that improvements were necessary. The reason we fell short on patient safety was the fact that we did not have sufficient numbers of nurses on all shifts. The Trust respnded to this verdict with an intensive recruitment drive, even sending representatives abroad to look for new nursing staff (including, incidentally, to Romania where, some would have us believe, the entire population is desperate to come to the UK) but even after this it was unable to recruit enough qualified staff to maintain the required levels for patient safety. Consequently, the decision was made to close one of the community hospitals, with existing staff having to be relocated to different sites (some simply resigned, exacerbating the problem of low staffing levels) and patients also had to be moved further away from their home area, making family visits more difficult. As a result of the closure of this community hospital there are now less community beds available than previously in the county in which I live and work.
The government claims to hav 'ring-fenced' NHS spending, but by freezing pay for NHS staff year on year* during a time of rising costs of living, a situation has been created in which there are now serious difficulties in the recruitment and retention of staff.
From my own experience working in the NHS I know that another consequence of the difficulty in maintaining staffing levels is that clinical staff often end up having to cancel previously scheduled training in order to stay and help out on wards, particularly when one or more colleagues may be off sick (and of course, sickness levels inevitably increase when staff are under additional stress due to having to work in an inadequately staffed environment); and staff being behind on training is another factor which contributed to hospitals being considered unsafe in the recent CQC report.
Those 'conspiracy theorists' who see a pattern developing in which the government appears to be deliberately making life difficult for the health service, and allowing its reputation with the public to be damaged, in order to make the process of privatisation (which is already underway in one sense**) easier, would certainly not be dissuaded of their view by this situation of wards and hospitals having to close as a result of Trusts' inability to recruit and retain staff, nor by the recent press coverage regarding the high proportion of 'unsafe' hospitals.

*The only reason that nurses and other NHS staff managed to get a 1% pay rise last year was by resorting to strike action - something that is very unlikely to be possible in the future if the government brings in their proposed new anti-trade union legislation.

**40% of new NHS contracts currently go to private healthcare companies.

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