• North Staffordshire Combined Healthcare Trust pushes back opening of new £2.4m psychiatric ward 
  • Opening of the new PICU ward was delayed after the trust failed to recruit the minimum number of nurses needed 
  • The trust said it will be looking to utilise nursing associate and advanced nurse practitioner roles to help address shortages 

Staff shortages have forced a trust to push back the opening of a new ward treating patients with some of the most severe mental health needs.

North Staffordshire Combined Healthcare Trust delayed the opening of its new psychiatric intensive care unit after it was unable to recruit enough registered nurses to staff the ward. 

The trust, which was due to open the new six bed unit this month, has confirmed it now aims to open it in the autumn.

PICU wards specialise in the treatment of people with some of the most acute and intensive mental health needs.

The £2.4m unit, which was completed last month, will be a first for the area and with it the trust aims to reduce out of area placements. It comes amidst a national drive to reduce out of area placements within mental health services. 

In May the trust reported a 9.8 per cent nurse vacancy rate, while according to Health Education England there is a 11.2 per cent vacancy rate for mental health nurses across England. 

Overall the provider aims to recruit 14.5 whole time equivalent nurses to the unit, with a minimum of 12 needed to open it. 

The trust told HSJ it has recruited more than half the minimum of registered nurses needed and of these, three have been recruited from internal posts meaning there will be vacancies in other wards. 

In a statement to HSJ the trust said: “We are looking to utilise new roles across the trust, not specifically in PICU. We already have advanced nurse practitioners in roles who have a higher level of skill and expertise, and we hope to support a cohort of nurse associates this year to wards in both in-patients and community.

“We have also supported a number of physician associates into practice.”

It added that it has also undertaken a number of initiatives to improve recruitment including offering cash incentives for staff who recommend the trust and making second year nurses a conditional job offer for the end of their training.