Health secretary told of Doncaster heath trust surgery problems

Jeremy Hunt.      Picture: Ted Eytan
Jeremy Hunt. Picture: Ted Eytan

The health secretary has been told how a Doncaster health trust had to suspend emergency surgery due to staff shortages.

Patients requiring emergency surgery at Bassetlaw Hospital are being transferred to Doncaster Royal Infirmary as the trust tries to get to grips with a staff crisis, and now the issue has been raised in Parliament.

Doncaster and Bassetlaw Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has said the move would affect around 10 to 14 patients a week.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt was asked about his plans to reduce agency staffing expenditure in the NHS in the House of Commons.

Heidi Alexander, shadow health secretary, told him: “Spending on agency staff has gone through the roof under this Health Secretary, and the Secretary of State’s attempt to deal with the symptoms of the problem but not the cause has left hospitals struggling to get staff at rates they are allowed to pay.

“In the past few weeks we have seen reports of emergency surgery suspended in Doncaster, an A&E department downgraded in Chorley and two critical care units closed in Leeds, all because of staff shortages. The Health Secretary has admitted this will be his last big job in politics. May I urge him before he goes to get a grip on the cause of the staffing crisis? Otherwise, it will be patients who will be facing the consequences long after he has gone.”

Mr Hunt said: “As a result of the measures we have taken to deal with the agency staff issue, we think we have saved £290m compared with what we would have spent since last October, two thirds of trusts are reporting savings and the price paid for agency nurses is 10 per cent lower than it was in October.

“The root cause of the problem is, as John Pugh said, our failure in the past to recruit enough staff. One of the reasons for that is that successive Governments failed to understand the needs of nursing in wards, which is why we had the problem at Mid Staffs. Because we are addressing that, we are now able to make sure that we do not pay excessive rates for agency staff.”

Bosses at the Doncaster trust claim neighbouring trusts broke agency spending caps, contributing to staff shortages in Doncaster.

The trust has revealed staff who ‘could and perhaps should be working locally’ are choosing to work for higher ‘cap-breaking rates’ elsewhere in the region. The trust has raised the issue with health care watchdog NHS Improvement.