Safety before staff cuts says hospitals trust chief

Patient safety is more important than cutting staff to save money, the boss of King George and Queen’s hospitals has said.

Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust (BHRUT), which runs the two hospitals in Redbridge and Havering, is under pressure to reduce its yearly deficit of more than £70million.

In the face of winter pressures, BHRUT is struggling to make planned savings of £40m this year by reducing “waste” on temporary staff and by increasing efficiency in non-urgent surgery.

A financial report published with a board meeting on Tuesday, November 9, says the trust is “off plan” by £11m.

Chief executive Matthew Trainer told the board: “This winter is going to create cost pressures on us because this is a trust that was underfunded before the pandemic.

“It’s a trust now that’s been through [a] pandemic and has been supported nationally through this, and we will come out with a deficit position we’ll have to manage.

“But our priority is keeping people safe and managing risk at the minute, and some of these investments will stretch us financially and we’ll need to work hard next year to try to take out some of those savings where we can.”

According to its annual report, BHRUT spends a premium of £20m on temporary staff, which it hoped to reduce by recruiting more permanent staff, cutting out agencies and lowering the rates it pays.

The report describes the higher wages temporary staff are paid as “not only unaffordable, but unfair”.

Staff sickness and absence is listed as the third biggest risk to the trust’s performance, after increased pressure from COVID-19 and a lack of beds.

An internal audit, included in the report, identifies the lack of permanent staff in the emergency departments and frailty units as a key issue.

It says: ”This is putting more pressure on the staff who are in post, and leading to resignations, which then adds further pressure to the remaining staff, and further increases the dependence on temporary and agency staff, which is not the most cost efficient way to operate the department.”

BHRUT’s plan to increase efficiency in elective surgery involves performing 110 per cent of the operations it achieved in 2019/20.

The NHS trust’s plan involves reducing wasted hours from cancelled surgeries, and reducing “intra session waste” by 33 per cent..

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Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter