STAFFORD Hospital is struggling to recruit senior doctors and experienced nurses, and is facing continuing problems with staff shortages, its chief executive has said.
On some of the worst out-of-hours shifts in recent months, half the nurses on some wards were agency staff, and managers were having to sort out staffing levels on a "shift by shift basis" rather than being able to plan ahead. Meanwhile the turnover of locum consultants looking after elderly patients reached double figures in the first six months of this year, chief executive Maggie Oldham told a meeting of Staffordshire County Council's health committee.
And when the Mid Staffs Trust called in Care Quality Commission inspectors in June its services were "fragile and deteriorating rapidly", Ms Oldham said.
The CQC's report is due to be published within the next fortnight, but she said the CQC's initial feedback was "more positive than we expected" and managers were now putting in a range of measures to reduce pressure on services and safeguard patient safety. These included closing a "flex" ward that had been opened to deal with winter A&E pressures, as well as a number of other beds around the hospital, so that staff had fewer patients to look after.
Ambulances answering 999 calls on the fringe of Stafford's catchment area were now taking some patients to other hospitals, to reduce the number of admissions to Stafford.
And Ms Oldham said Stafford was working closely with the hospitals in Wolverhampton and Stoke, as well as other community healthcare providers, to ease pressure on services in the run-up to the planed dissolution of the Mid Staffs Trust in November.
"We are well and truly past being able to solve all our own problems and we do need support from wider clinical networks," Ms Oldham said.
"It remains a very fragile hospital, but I feel confident that if we can deliver on the actions we have started it will get us to November."
And she added: "It is a testament to our staff that despite very, very difficult circumstances we are able to demonstrate some quality improvements. Our care is above the national average and we are still on an improvement curve."