A NURSING union has voiced major fears about the number of senior nurses being replaced by junior or unqualified staff and a cut in the levels of beds available.
The Royal College of Nursing revealed at North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, which runs hospitals in Hartlepool and Stockton, there are now fewer senior nurses while they have recruited more unregulated healthcare assistants.
The study was part of a wider study across the North East and Cumbria but health chiefs have hit back and say they are constantly reviewing their nursing levels to ensure they meet demand.
The study revealed at the Trust:
l There are now fewer senior nurses – at the end of fiscal 2010, there were 216 band seven nurses at the trust, but by the beginning of this year numbers had fallen to 189.
l Their band 6 nurses have fallen from 616 to 559 over the same period while band 5 nurses have fallen from 1107 to 1017.
The trust has recruited more unregulated healthcare assistants, from 156 to 187 over the same period.
Glenn Turp, RCN regional director said it was a “tribute” to the excellence of the region’s nursing workforce that despite all of the pressures they continue to deliver an excellent service but warned it is “getting more and more difficult” to maintain this level of care.
Julie Gillon, the Trust’s chief operating officer and deputy chief executive, said: “Our nursing structure allows and encourages career progression which is what many nurses want as they progress through their career.
“Our ratio of registered to non-registered nurses is higher than it was five years ago.”
The RCN study showed North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust had 674 acute and general beds at end of 2010, but by beginning of 2013, that had fallen to 601.
Ms Gillon added: “Years ago we embarked on the momentum: pathways to healthcare programme to change the way healthcare is provided, making it better for patients.
“The plan was always to have fewer beds because we believed that by encouraging people to live healthier lifestyles, take up screening and trying to prevent people getting ill in the first place this would result in a reduction in demand for hospital beds.”