Commission for Health Improvement reviewers last week visited the troubled accident and emergency department at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford where staff are reporting improvements in morale.

As part of the routine clinical governance review, CHI spent time in the A&E department where Royal College of Nursing members had threatened strike action earlier this year. Chief officer of Oxfordshire community health council Linda Watson said:

'It is still pure hell with the redevelopment going on, but staff are conscious they've got the leadership that was lacking before.'

The appointment of Julie Harvey-Jones as director of nursing three months ago appears to have made a substantial difference.

RCN regional officer Patricia Marquis said the dispute had been about 'management inaction'. 'It is still a very busy unit and short of staff, but managers are now much more visible and are taking action, ' she said.

Chief executive David Highton said the£10m A&E refurbishment would increase clinical space by up to 50 per cent, including creation of a separate paediatric A&E.

The trust also expects a 'double cohort' of 120 newly qualified nurses from Oxford Brookes University in the next six weeks.