UP to 58 beds are to go from Stafford Hospital within weeks as health bosses grapple with a staffing crisis.
The move is being made “to maintain safe staffing levels” for patients, according to chief executive Maggie Oldham.
The move comes at the same time as the chief inspector of hospitals has warned that staff shortages risk Stafford’s services becoming “unsustainable”.
Managers are having to spend an “inordinate” amount of time trying to get enough staff together to provide safe cover, Professor Sir Mike Richards said. He called for a clear transition plan for the Mid Staffs Trust’s dissolution, because uncertainty was contributing to “fatigue and fragility” among staff.
Stafford Hospital’s “winter/flex” ward, which provides extra capacity for periods of high demand, is set to close within the next week and a further ward may be shut by the beginning of August.
This adds up to the loss of a total of 37 adult inpatient beds.
The hospital is also discontinuing the use of temporary beds in other areas, which - as is common practice in the NHS - Stafford has been using to provide additional capacity over the past months.
The number of beds used in this way varies from day to day, but the shake-up will mean the loss of up to 21 more beds.
These measures will help us ensure that we have a safe number of nursing staff for our patients.
There are currently 85 whole time equivalent vacancies for nurses. At the moment hese shifts are filled, where possible, by Stafford’s own ‘bank nurses’ and, when necessary, by more expensive agency nurses.
Managers say they are doing all they can to try to recruit to these posts.
Maggie Oldham said:”‘We are working hard to ensure that we have the right number of beds to match the nursing and medical workforce available.
“Initially we are looking to close beds that were opened as additional winter capacity, and then up to 2 further wards depending upon the availability of staff, particularly nurses.
‘It continues to be our aim to provide safe services to our local community and to do this we need to ensure that the number of nurses safely matches the number of beds in use.
‘We are in extensive discussions with all our local partners including the commissioners, on how this capacity can be provided safely elsewhere.’
Meanwhile Sir Mike called on the neighbouring Wolverhampton and North Staffordshire trusts to support medical and nursing staff levels at Mid Staffs over the next four months until the trust was dissolved so that services remained safe.
And CQC inspectors who visited the hospital earlier this month said staffing levels were only just adequate in some areas, particularly on medical wards.
If recruitment or retention fell by just one or two people in some posts, services would become unsafe.