Demoralised staff at east London’s new £1bn hospital have issued a cry for help as they struggle with increasing workloads and staff shortages as overworked colleagues call in sick or quit their jobs.
Doctors, nurses and their assistants at the Royal London Hospital, in Whitechapel, say PFI repayments combined with government cuts are crippling the Trust forcing it to reduce staff numbers, cut services and compromise care.
Barts Health Trust, that manages the RLH, recently announced 161 nurses will be laid-off from this month despite the Care Quality Commission criticising it for being understaffed. A further 60 full-time equivalent posts are also to go.
Barts currently has around a 1,000 vacancies across all departments.
At a recent meeting organised by Tower Hamlets Keep Our NHS Public, visibly worried NHS workers warned that nurses were being ran into the ground and patient care was being compromised.
One nursing assistant, from the Royal London’s cancer ward, said: “People are leaving. In the last few months we have lost ten nurses. Then there’s no replacement when people are off sick. People are being made ill because of the extra workload and then go off sick too and the cycle continues. We’re leaving patients without care, food, going cold and their families are rightly complaining.”
A trainee doctor working in the RLH’s A&E agreed saying his department has become a lot busier since the government closed walk-in centres adding to the pressure A&E nurses were already under.
He said: “The government is making it more difficult to treat patients. I believe nurses are leaving the department because of the pressure. They are too stressed. I think about leaving too.”
He added: “On Monday there was a dangerous number of children in the department. Around 50 children plus the people accompanying them. Some were very sick, some not sick enough to be there, but since the walk-in centre was taken away we have a lot of people coming in with problems they could see their GP for. So we have two or three times the number of patients we should, but with a shortage of nurses.”
The NHS Health and Social Care Information Centre said there were now 6,642 fewer nurses in hospitals since May 2010.
A brain specialist at Barts said management were even questioning the need for the only nurse in her department. She said: “We have one nurse, but they say we don’t need her, but on our department people have seizures and do need care. There are some doctors around but they are not able to stay and look after them.”
Mark Boothroyd, from the Four-to-one campaign that calls for one nurse to every four patients on regular wards, said: “Some nurses have said they are looking after up to 14 people and even 18 at night. This is why care is deteriorating. There are 20k nurse vacancies at the moment, but conditions are appalling and people are leaving. We need a sustainable workforce.”
Kambiz Boomla, a GP in Tower Hamlets, said the PFI agreement, that costs around £10m a month, is crippling the Trust.
He said: “It cost £1bn to build [the hospital] but the Trust will have to pay £7 or £8bn back. The failure of healthcare will become more and more apparent.”
At the Barts Health Trust’s monthly board meeting this week a non-executive director, speaking privately, said poor morale and staff shortages were caused by the huge changes being pushed through and an ineffective recruitment strategy, but things should be in better shape in a few years time.
However, he said he didn’t know how the Trust would cope with its PFI debt. Annual payments currently stand at around £115m.
In what sounded like a desperate plea for help, the trainee doctor from A&E said: “The government is making it more difficult to treat patients. Please talk to your friends and relatives and make them aware of what is going on.”
*The names of staff who spoke out have been omitted to protect their identity after a union representative was recently sacked for doing just that.
Charlotte Munro, the Unison union chair at Whipps Cross Hospital, in Leyton – part of Barts Health Trust – was sacked earlier this year for sharing colleagues’ concerns over plans to reduce stroke services at a staff consultative forum.
“I had given the views of staff that [the Trust] didn’t agree with. They said I brought the Trust into disrepute.” Following an investigation Munro was dismissed for serious misconduct. She described the move as an attack on freedom of expression, the democratic process and transparency.
She said the Trust also brought an allegation of a conflict of interest between her role as union rep speaking to management and as a member of the Patient Panel, which was later thrown out.
“I think their message is that union reps at their peril speak outside of the Health Trusts,” she said.
She is due to appeal the dismissal today (Thurs Dec 6).