A trust is to improve night staffing levels after nurses warned that they were so overworked they feared making a 'fatal error'.

Carlisle Hospitals trust's decision came a week after six nurses wrote to managers at the Cumberland Infirmary, claiming staff on the medical/elderly care unit often worked through the night with no break. Some now showed signs of stress and 'sheer exhaustion', the nurses claimed.

Pauline Lowes, nursing and quality director, told the trust's latest board meeting she was greatly concerned to discover that nurses were not getting adequate meal breaks. She added: 'We have agreed that we would prefer to increase staffing levels.'

Proposed action includes arranging immediate cover to ensure that nurses get their meal breaks, and the addition of a trained nurse to replace an auxiliary nurse on one ward. The plan was drawn up after the hospital ordered an urgent 'nurse-led' inquiry into staffing levels.

Carlisle's Labour MP, Eric Martlew, alerted health secretary Frank Dobson to the complaints.