• Rural trust decides against drastic option proposed to address staff shortages
  • Board instead voted through plan which only involves potential suspension of routine procedures
  • Queen Elizabeth Hospital King’s Lynn Foundation Trust was placed in special measures earlier this month

A hospital has decided against rolling out emergency proposals discussed today to suspending cancer and urgent operations but it could postpone routine operations because of significant staff shortages.

Queen Elizabeth Hospital King’s Lynn Hospital Foundation Trust, placed in special measures earlier this month, discussed options at a board meeting today (see paper attached) prompted by nursing vacancy rates on some wards of over 40 per cent.

The options included “an immediate suspension of the trust’s elective programme [which covers 24 beds and around 25 operations a week], including patients on cancer pathways and patients deemed clinically urgent by consultants”.

A paper setting out the options said the trust’s improvement director Philippa Slinger, appointed by NHS Improvement after its inadequate rating from the Care Quality Commission, had “recommended the closure of a ward to release nursing staff”.

The trust’s board agreed it may need to close some beds if it is unable to secure enough agency staff to keep staffing ratios at safe levels.

 Chief executive Jon Green told HSJ: “We will review staffing on a weekly basis and if we are not comfortable with the numbers we will have to cancel elements of surgery. But this will be restricted to routine inpatients, of which there are around 15 to 20 cases a week.

“We are not touching [the urgent or cancer] operations at all [but] it was an option we had to look at.”

The emergency meeting took place after the trust was placed in special measures and nursing shortages threatening patient safety. The paper discussed by the board outlined vacancy rates of over 40 per cent on a number of wards.

The paper also said the trust had held “initial discussions” with neighbouring tertiary centres Cambridge University Hospitals and Norfolk and Norwich Hospitals foundation trusts about transferring urgent and cancer patients had taken place in an indication of how serious an option the proposal had been.

It said: “Addenbrooke’s [CUH] are unable to support with any capacity, and NNUH, although [it has] no capacity available, would look to work with the QEH to ensure that urgent patients as described above are able to continue their pathways.

“It is possible that there will be delays incurred in the transfer of patients already booked for surgery at QEH, and it will be vital to ensure that neither their care nor outcomes are compromised as a result of this.”

The local staff side representative said proposals to freeze urgent elective work would “an absolute travesty and a disaster”.

Darren Barber, chairman of the QEHKL joint staff consultative committee, told the Eastern Daily Press: ”If we were to do this it would impact the hospital, its deficit and [its] financial status, as QEHKL earns through its elective care.”

UPDATED: This story was updated at 16:45 on 25 September to reflect decisions taken by the emergency board meeting held that afternoon.