Health chiefs have flown to Spain in a bid to recruit more nurses to ease a “huge pressure” created by an extra 900 patients passing through accident and emergency this month.
Less than six months after employing some 40 Portuguese nurses, a recruitment team from the county’s hospitals trust will head to Iberia this week to begin the search for a further 60 to work at Gloucestershire Royal and Cheltenham General Hospitals.
An extra 30 patients a day were seen by accident and emergency staff this month compared to last year, contributing to huge pressures on the system.
The trust said its recruitment is in response to a staffing shortfall in acute medicine with a particular black hole in the number of doctors coming through and a shortage in all areas bar consultants.
Chief executive of the Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Dr Frank Harsent, pictured, said: “We are seeing a huge number of people coming through A&E, almost an extra 900 patients this month compared to last year. That’s 30 more patients every day.
“It is not easy to turn on a tap for more staff. It is one of the reasons why we are not hitting our targets for A&E.”
Portuguese nurses, employed in a recruitment drive last autumn, have already started work and are winning rave reviews from patients and colleagues.
Around 50 interviews have been conducted with university graduates interested in working in the county. However the trust has not ruled out going to Dubai and the Philippines to recruit more skilled workers.
It has admitted to an over-reliance on agency staff, with a £1.5 million overspend. New permanent staff are being recruited monthly, with 20 new health care assistants starting work in the last month. But increasing admissions this month left staffing levels creaking.
In May last year, daily hospital admissions at both sites averaged around 330.
This month, there have been, on average, 370 people arriving for treatment.
On two days this month, there have been as many as 400 patients seeking help on each day. A combination of factors have been blamed, including reduced health services elsewhere and overloaded GP waiting rooms.
The four hour standard for patients being seen in A&E fell below the 95 per cent benchmark to 93.8 per cent in April. In May 2013, there were 10,224 patients at both hospitals. So far this month, there have been 11,100 patients arriving for treatment.
But one hospital trust success story has been its winter performance. Length of patient stays were down on last year, as were bed occupancy rates and the number of beds lost to outbreaks of sickness bugs.
Improvements have been seen as a result of better weather, additional funding and lower attendances.
But a shortage of doctors remains a key hindrance. Eric Gatling, director of service delivery at the trust, said: “It is not just attendances that are having an impact, but having enough doctors to see patients in a timely manner.
“A number of other hospital trusts are in a similar position, so we are effectively fighting over the same locums to work in our hospitals.”
Maggie Arnold, director of nursing, added recruitment was about getting the trust's name out there to all universities, not just those in the South West.
“We need to be spreading our wings to attract more people,” she said.