Hospital bosses are still struggling to recruit nearly two-thirds of permanent middle-grade doctors to cover A&E across Lincolnshire three years after they closed Grantham A&E.
However, they say improvements to patient flow have been made to services to help balance out the shortages and provide a safe service.
United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust medical director Dr Neill Hepburn told the trust’s board on Tuesday that out of 44 A&E middle-grade doctors across the entire trust, only 15 were “substantive” – a similar level to when the Grantham A&E was closed overnight three years ago.
On the day when campaigners marked 1,000 days since the overnight closure, Dr Hepburn was responding to a question on whether it could be expected to reopen soon.
Following the meeting, he told Local Democracy Reporter Daniel Jaines that the number of posts on the merged A&E team had seen eight based at Grantham – up from seven – but: “we’re still struggling to recruit middle-grade.
“We have a lot of NHS and agency locums but effectively they’re temporary staff, that’s the difficulty, so we haven’t dramatically improved our substantive staff.”
Despite the number of temporary staff, however, there are still regular – if not daily – gaps.
“I was on duty over the Easter Weekend, in Lincoln all day Good Friday and Pilgrim on Easter Saturday, and in each place we had gaps we were working to fill or provide in a different way,” said Dr Hepburn.
He said, however, the total staff across ULHT as a whole had increased, particularly at Lincoln and Boston which had “become much busier” and “needed a larger number of staff to take care of patients.”
He praised improvements such as the integrated assessment unit at Pilgrim Hostpial for moving people on to where they needed to be “fairly quickly” with the aim to move onto the same system at Lincoln.
He also praised further improvements at the hospital following a series of CQC inspections between November and January.
“Pilgrim had a terrible inspection at the end of last year, we were all very upset, the staff were upset and we worked very closely with them.
“If you go into Pilgrim A&E now it’s a different place, much more organised, the flows better, the staff are better supported, training is better.
“We’ve got doctors coming from elsewhere to help train and improve the standards, it is quite a different place and we need to continually do that.”
However, he added: “Grantham, because of the consultation that we’re very keen for people to join in, will be a different model because the need is different.
“We need to be sensible about what we’re trying do so we provide the care efficiently and effectively that people need.”
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