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Staff Shortage Crisis Affecting A&E

As casualty departments warned staffing levels would be at crisis point over the August bank holiday weekend, the College of Emergency Medicine announced there is currently a national shortage crisis affecting Accident & Emergency departments, with a lack of 650 consultants.

Adequate staffing levels are essential to ensure that patient safety is not compromised. However numerous reports are documenting these levels are inadequate, resulting in a failure to meet patients’ needs. Information published by Dr Foster Intelligence, a major health information company, show some Trusts roster no consultants in their major hospitals at weekends, instead relying on consultants who are on call to attend the wards.  The Sunday Times reported in August that some hospitals are asking a single consultant to oversee 100 patients at busy weekend periods. This is endangering patient safety and causing inconsistencies in care standards, as well as putting an unacceptable level of pressure on hospital staff.

It was reported in the Sunday Times in August, that in an attempt to secure the necessary consultants to run their units safely, some Trusts have resorted to offering large bonuses. Yet despite this, a recent post at one hospital offering a retainer of £40,000 for an A & E consultant who would stay for three years, and a salary starting upwards of £75,000, attracted just two applications.

The Chief Inspector of hospitals, Professor Sir Mike Richards, has announced inspection plans which aim to gain a better understanding of care in hospitals. Inspections will be carried out not only by senior NHS clinicians, professional and clinical staff, but also by patients, carers and other experts. The inspections will consist of both announced and unannounced visits. Professor Richards hopes the inspections will give an accurate reflection of the level of care currently being provided in hospitals, and allow the detection of staff shortages at times when hospitals are likely to have fewer people on duty.

However, whilst identifying staff shortages may be the initial dilemma, it would seem that attracting experienced consultants to vacant roles may be the next challenge in resolving the shortages and prioritising patient safety.