Unit’s staff ‘close to break point’

University Hospital of Hartlepool
University Hospital of Hartlepool

A union has raised concerns over staffing levels at Hartlepool hospital’s fertility unit and says it is disappointed at the options proposed for its future.

The regional branch of UNISON claims staff at the Assisted Production Unit (ARU) are approaching “breaking point” to cope with staff who are off sick or have left.

Remaining staff are working well over normal hours and are getting to breaking point

Mike Hill, UNISON

It is also disappointed that out of the three choices put forward in a public consultation which launched this week, there is no option for the hospital trust to continue providing the service itself.

But health commissioners say actions have been taken to keep on top of the staffing risks and cover is being provided from elsewhere.

Mike Hill, UNISON regional organiser said: “Our information demonstrates that the Trust have not attempted to recruit and keep the ARU stable since the pre High Court Agreement and instead have watched staffing rapidly decline to near dangerous levels.”

Mr Hill said the unit has been one consultant down since May 17 and 75 hours of nursing staff time short.

“Remaining staff are working well over normal hours and are getting to breaking point,” he said.”

He added: “The lack of an option in the latest consultation to continue to operate the service ‘in house’ is a massive kick in the teeth to the hard working dedicated staff who have kept the service going despite all the recent uncertainties over its future and the pressures of a working environment in which the threat of redundancy has never been lifted.

“If the option of maintaining the status quo is not included in the public consultations, based upon the evidence we have already provided, we ‎will not hesitate in declaring that we no longer have any trust and confidence in the leadership of the Trust and in particular it’s Chief Executive Alan Foster.”

Hartlepool and Stockton Clinical Commissioning Group launched the six-week consultation on Tuesday.

The three options for the unit are for it to remain where it is but provided by another organisation; unlicensed services to stay in Hartlepool but treatment such as IVF done by another out of town hospital, or the unit to close and all treatments carried out elsewhere.

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A CCG spokesman responded to the union’s concerns saying: “NHS Hartlepool and Stockton on Tees Clinical Commissioning Group can confirm that North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust has highlighted the risk of safe staffing levels in this unit.

“We have discussed the issue and ensured the actions from those discussions have been put in place to mitigate the risks identified.

“The CCG is also exploring support from other commissioned services should the risk in relation to sustaining services with the current workforce issues materialise.

“Currently there is embryologist cover 12.5 hours above the unit establishment. Cover in the unit is provided by appropriately trained staff from the hospital and through agencies to cover the current sickness absence in the unit.

“There are also plans in place to ensure embryologist cover and any additional staffing requirements are in place through to July 31 2016 with the option to extend the locum cover and temporary staffing arrangements to support the current workforce.”

The CCG said the trust is working closely with unions and keep the ARU staff regularly informed.

The spokesman added: “The consultation includes an option for a comprehensive assisted reproductive service including HFEA Licensed and unlicensed provision remaining in Hartlepool.”