Croydon A&E second-most understaffed in country
A staffing crisis at Croydon University Hospital accident and emergency (A&E) has left it with the second largest shortfall of permanent employees in the country.
The ward has a third fewer permanent workers than its NHS trust believes it needs, with the biggest gap in the supply of nurses.
Croydon Health Services NHS Trust employs 151 permanent A&E staff, a shortfall of 48.
Only Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust had a bigger deficit of staff, according to statistics obtained through Freedom of Information requests.
The trust stressed holes were plugged with temporary and agency staff, although these typically cost more than full-time employees.
It claimed employing temporary staff did not impact on standards of care.
Last Winter patients faced the second longest wait at Croydon University Hospital than in any other A&E ward in London.
Five-hundred ambulance handovers took more than 30 minutes between November and February as paramedics were forced to wait for clinical staff to receive patients.
Croydon University Hospital has just 68 permanent nurses, despite budgeting for 112. It has six permanent consultants, 25 per cent fewer than the eight allowed for, and 29 other doctors, fewer than the 31 deemed necessary.
Some 83 of the 101 trusts nationwide which provided data admitted having too few A&E staff, with an average shortfall of ten per cent. In Croydon, the figure was 32 per cent.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt yesterday predicted it would be "very, very tough" for NHS hospitals to avoid a repeat of last winter's crisis, which saw waiting times around the country surge.
Croydon NHS Trust said it would be recruiting to fill vacancies and had seen waiting times improve.
Karen Breen, deputy chief executive and chief operating officer, said: "The number of A&E consultants at Croydon is growing - seven new consultants have joined A&E and the Acute Medical Unit in the past six months, with more substantive nurses joining the A&E team this month.
"We are actively recruiting to secure a full complement of permanent A&E consultants and to fill nursing vacancies.
"However, during times where permanent staff are not in post, suitably trained and qualified interim staff are employed to ensure the department at Croydon is staffed to meet demand."
The Royal College of Nursing last month expressed concern about reductions in specialist staff at London hospitals.
Bernell Bussue, the college's regional director for the capital, said: "Having the right numbers and a sufficiently skilled staff in place creates a safer environment and makes for a better patient experience.
"The evidence shows that if hospital management don’t ensure appropriate levels of staff then patients can be put at risk."
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