Medics are being asked to work extra hours as health bosses scour the globe looking to fill hundreds of job posts.
Blackpool Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has asked staff to volunteer for more shifts at hospitals in Blackpool and St Annes, and community services across Lancashire.
Almost 500 jobs were offered to hopefuls as of April, documents revealed, while the equivalent of 261 full-time posts were still vacant at the start of last month, the trust said. It is hiring more staff to avoid using agency workers, which cost around 22 per cent more, and insists safeguards are in place to stop nurses from being over-worked.
But with red tape delaying new starters by more than nine weeks, and with wards short-staffed by 13 per cent in April, Blackpool North and Cleveleys MP Paul Maynard said more needs to be done.
“I would share anyone’s concerns that the solution to insufficient staffing is to ask existing staff to work longer hours,” he said. “I recognise the trust does have recruitment issues, like a number of coastal hospitals, but we need to work harder to attract people to work in Blackpool.
“Agency staffing substantially adds to the cost at hospitals, so one way we can reduce trusts’ debts is to reduce the reliance on agency staff by employing permanent staff.
Staff already work excessive hours to cover gaps
“That does not mean you use existing staff and work them harder. There has to be a balance.”
The trust said it will spend an extra £4.8m on staff wages this year, and has introduced ‘more robust and in-depth’ exit interviews to find out why one in 10 workers are leaving annually, a figure it says is comparable to other trusts.
Its agency spend on nurses dropped from £2.4m to £1.2m in 2015/16, while the trust expects to save £735,000 this year by asking staff to work extra hours instead.
Deputy chief executive and director of finance, Tim Bennett, said: “The trust has been promoting its ‘bench’ system for a number of reasons.
“Safe staffing levels are a priority, and we monitor how many staff we need, and the type and level of staff required, at regular intervals every day.
“The bench system helps as it is an extremely flexible way of making sure we have the right number of our own trained staff in the right place at the right time, when demand rises, while reducing the need to engage more expensive agency staff.
“But we also know it is good for our staff as they can gain valuable experience working in other areas, and extending their skill base, while working at times to suit them.”
But regional director of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) for the North West, Estephanie Dunn said: “Staffing pressures across NHS Trusts in the North West have reached an unsustainable level.
“A combination of staffing cuts to make cost savings and past reductions in nurse training places have created the situation, while the Government’s cap on agency staffing is making a bad situation even worse.
“Trusts are being forced to compete both here and overseas to recruit nurses.
“It’s unsurprising trusts like Blackpool are resorting to using unsustainable initiatives like this to tackle a chronic problem of understaffing.
“Staff already work excessive hours to cover gaps and provide care. This situation needs very careful management, with suitable safeguards to prevent staff becoming overstretched and exhausted.
“We are struggling to see an end to this situation. The Government simply can’t go on ignoring this staffing crisis.”
Wanted by the trust are Allied Health Professionals — including dieticians, podiatrists, and radiographers — nurses, healthcare scientists, estates and admin workers, and other medical staff.
The trust’s plan to hire from the Philippines is nearly finished, papers showed, while further events will be held abroad through the year.
A recent jobs fair in Dublin was deemed successful, while the trust was set to attend a Nursing and Midwifery Council event in Manchester.
The trust is also working with Cumbria University, and the University of Central Lancashire to offer jobs to students before they graduate.
Bosses meet on a monthly basis to discuss recruitment, and are focusing on bringing more doctors in to reduce the need for agency staff, a spokesman said.
In April, the trust said it wouldn’t breach the agency pay cap brought in by health secretary Jeremy Hunt, in a bid to reduce the annual £3.3bn NHS spend by £1bn, despite Chorley doing so in a failed effort to stop its A&E closing due to a staffing crisis.
There is no suggestion a repeat could be on the cards on the Fylde coast, the trust stressed.
An electronic rota system ensures staff are qualified for the role they are being asked to cover, while the number of hours worked are bound by the European Working Time Directives, the spokesman said.