Staffing issues lead to temporary bed closures at Alston

Inpatient beds at Alston Hospital will temporarily close week commencing 17th April as the Trust is unable to safely staff the ward 24 hours a day seven days a week.

Despite a recruitment campaign locally and nationally, there continues to be registered nursing vacancies at the Hospital. The staffing situation has now become unsustainable. The team at Alston have been going above and beyond their normal call of duty for some considerable time in order to maintain safe staffing levels for the ward. They have cancelled their planned holidays, are coming in to work on their days off, working additional hours on an ongoing basis and with qualified Trust managers also covering shifts to keep the service running. This has also meant that we have had to reduce our Alston Community service in order to maintain the beds which is not a sustainable position going forward.

To minimise the impact of closing the 6 beds, the staff will remain in Alston delivering a more comprehensive high quality community based service which will enable more people to receive the care they need at home. The staff will also continue to run the nurse led treatment centre, the outpatient department and the day hospital all of which operate from the hospital premises. 

Dr Craig Melrose, Associate Medical Director from Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust said, “The beds at Alston Hospital will temporarily close week commencing 17th April and we will continue to care for the remaining patients until they are discharged.

The staff will then provide an enhanced community service, moving from the existing five day a week 8am until 4pm service to a seven day a week 8am until 11pm service. The longer operating hours of the community services mean that those needing care can stay in their own homes and the nursing and rehabilitative treatments can be brought to them. This will enable us to give highly individualised care to people who need our support and interventions. We will also be able to provide support to the carers who are looking after the patients we are involved with, which we know is a concern across Cumbria as many people can become short term or long term carers with the associated risks to their own health and wellbeing. 

“Staff will be able to visit people in their own homes in the Alston area and offer more input than they currently can for a range of health conditions, this can help negate the need for a hospital admission. 

“Changes will only affect the inpatient beds and the opening hours of the nurse led treatment centre which will operate between 8am and 11pm. The day hospital will remain open, and the GP surgery and any outpatient appointments are also unaffected.

“This is a temporary position that we will be reviewing on a monthly basis and we will re-open the beds when we are able to safely staff the ward again.”

The Trust has met with representatives from the community to explain the position in detail, and the community are keen to assist the Trust with the recruitment of nurses for the area.

Dr Melrose added, “We remain optimistic as we continue to recruit to vacant posts and are extremely grateful to the community groups who have agreed to support an innovative new recruitment campaign to promote Alston. We appeal to the wider community to help us and welcome ideas to support this recruitment. We want to use the passion of the community to drive this forward.”

As part of the Healthcare for the Future public consultation, it was agreed to close the in-patient beds at Alston hospital, however the Trust has been clear that there will not be any permanent closures of beds until robust alternatives in the community are in place.  The work to develop alternatives to community bed provision, as agreed in the consultation, is a separate piece of work and will continue alongside these temporary arrangements which have been implemented because of the current safety concerns.

Dr Melrose added, “We must be clear that Alston hospital and the community services in the area have a long term and exciting future and any new staff will be actively encouraged to join the work to redesign services for the people of Alston Moor and to continue to develop excellent services for the local population.”

Malcolm Forster of the Alston Hospital League of Friends said: “We are very grateful to the staff in the hospital for working extended and extra shifts to keep the ward open but it can’t continue. We feel that the community can really help in attracting potential recruits. Alston is a unique and beautiful place to live and work in and the hospital has a special place in it. We urge everybody to share these vacancies through their social networks and help raise the profile of Alston Moor and the hospital.”

The Trust is preparing to re-open beds at Workington Hospital this month to minimise the impact of closing community beds across west, north and east Cumbria.