Revealed: scale of hospital staff shortages in top Tory areas

The maternity unit at the main hospital used by Theresa May’s local constituents is so severely understaffed that wards are running with only a quarter of the nurses they need, potentially putting mothers’ and babies’ lives at risk.

The Royal Berkshire hospital’s staffing data shows that on some days in March its delivery suite lacked two-thirds of the nurses it needed to provide safe care, while the midwife-led unit had as few as a third of the preferred number nurses on duty, despite evidence that staff shortages increase the risks of childbirth.

Even the high-risk antenatal ward, where the most vulnerable unborn children receive intensive monitoring, was 50% to 75% short of nurses during some shifts.

The Reading hospital, which is used by many of the prime minister’s Maidenhead constituents, is struggling with one of the NHS’s biggest recruitment problems. It is so short of midwives that its maternity unit sometimes has to close its doors, forcing women in labour to go elsewhere to give birth. In addition, some women are being denied a home birth because midwives who are usually based in the community are being told to work in the RBH’s maternity unit instead.

An internal briefing compiled by the Reading trust reveals that nurse vacancy rates are as high as 47% on one of its elderly care wards, 32% on wards treating children and patients with kidney disease and 31% on a surgical ward.

The Guardian uncovered the severe staff shortages during an investigation into the performance of the three hospital trusts used by constituents of May and the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, who is standing for election again in South West Surrey. They are the Royal Berkshire, the Royal Surrey County hospital in Guildford, Surrey and Frimley Health.

Frimley Health runs Frimley Park hospital in Surrey and two Berkshire hospitals that also treat many of May’s constituents: Wexham Park in Slough and Heatherwood in Ascot.

The investigation was based on responses to freedom of information requests, official NHS performance data, research by the House of Commons library and analysis of the trusts’ board papers. It also found huge understaffing issues at both the other trusts.


Full story in the Guardian, 7 June 2017