Hospital ward to ‘temporarily’ close over unsafe nurse shortages

Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust has said it has taken the decision to close the ward at Amersham Hospital to “keep its patients safe”, because it currently does not have enough nurses or therapists.

“The ongoing safety of our patients and staff is our main priority”

Neil Macdonald

The news comes after the Care Quality Commission (CQC) imposed urgent conditions on the trust to ensure its community inpatient wards were safely staffed, following an inspection earlier this year. 

The watchdog ordered the trust to file a report detailing its nurse-to-patient ratios in its community hospitals due to concerns that staff shortages were putting patients at risk.

At the time, the CQC said the trust’s inpatient community service “did not always have enough staff with the right qualifications, skills, training and experience” to keep patients safe.

The trust has now announced that its 22 bed Chartridge ward at Amersham Hospital cannot adhere to staff level conditions imposed by the CQC.

Consequently, as of 1 July, new admissions will be temporarily stopped at Chartridge, but existing patients will remain there until it is safe for them to be discharged.

The decision to temporarily close the ward will be reviewed in November.

While the closure takes place, nurses and other staff who work on the ward will move to the hospital’s other two inpatient wards, the trust has confirmed.

As of July, patients who require inpatient rehabilitation will be supported at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, referred to Buckingham Community Hospital or the Waterside ward at Amersham Hospital.

The trust assured that no patients would be transferred to a hospital outside of Buckinghamshire as a result of the closure, unless they asked for this to happen.

Chief executive of the trust, Neil Macdonald, said: “We are disappointed that we need to temporarily close Chartridge ward but the ongoing safety of our patients and staff is our main priority.

“By concentrating our staff across two wards instead of three, we will be able to ensure safe staffing at all times and provide a better experience for our patients,” he said.

“This will include additional therapy, helping people to recover faster and continue their rehabilitation in the comfort of their own homes,” he added.

“The challenge of maintaining sustainable, safe levels of staffing is currently proving very tough”

Lou Patten

In making its decision to close, the trust consulted with Buckinghamshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), the Health and Social Care Select Committee and Buckinghamshire County Council.

Chief executive for the CCG, Lou Patten, said high living costs were making it difficult to recruit nurses to the area.

“The challenge of maintaining sustainable, safe levels of staffing for inpatient community services is currently proving very tough in Buckinghamshire,” said Ms Patten. 

“Our county has high living costs and yet misses London salary allowances – this makes nursing vacancies less attractive than in other surrounding areas,” she said.

“We will be working closely with the trust, other health and care social partners and the local community to look at the options for Chartridge ward to find the best sustainable solutions,” she added.