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Grantham Hospital campaigner says 'systematic downgrades' and cuts to services have led to critical incident level in United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust

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A campaigner has criticised cuts to health services and "systematic downgrades" after a critical incident was declared in the county's hospitals staff shortages.

Melissa Darcey, of Fighting 4 Life Lincolnshire, responded to the news of a critical incident declared by United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust on New Year's Day as a result of "extreme and unprecedented" staff shortages.

The news was reported by Shaun Lintern, health editor at the Sunday Times, to which Melissa responded: "Where have you been for the last decade or so?"

Grantham Hospital (53401175)
Grantham Hospital (53401175)

"We have faced systematic downgrades to our services in Lincolnshire and this is a direct impact of the cuts to services in our neighbouring hospital such as Grantham, Louth, Skegness etc!"

According to NHS statistics, the number of Covid-19 related absences of staff, either through sickness or self-isolation, across ULHT sites has almost doubled since the end of November.

There were 77 Covid-related absences recorded on November 29, compared to the latest figures from December 26 which show 150 Covid-related absences.

However, the total number of staff absent from work through sickness or self isolation has only risen slightly in the same period, with 603 total absences across ULHT on November 29 and 643 recorded on December 26.

As well as this, the Royal College of Nursing penned an open letter yesterday urging ministers to adopt a more cautious approach for England and give more assurances on patient and professional safety.

The college says its members in England are questioning the differences with the rest of the UK and calls on government to release the evidence behind the decisions.

In a letter to Sajid Javid as part of on-going communication with decision-makers in recent days, the leaders of the professional nursing union set out a significant list of concerns raised by members.

Nursing staff must be free to speak up about any concerns, they argue.

The chair of the RCN’s Council and the body’s general secretary - Carol Popplestone and Pat Cullen - ask for assurances on safe patient care standards amid growing pressure on nursing staff who are treating and vaccinating more patients as staff absences shrink the workforce further.

NHS staff absences in England due to Covid-19 doubled in the two weeks to Boxing Day. The letter says the health and care service can “ill afford” the losses in a climate of vacant nursing jobs and rising demand.

The RCN is asking for the highest grade of PPE for its members as part of maximum workplace protection.

They also ask for further information to be made available on how the additional surge ‘mini Nightingale’ sites will be staffed given current operational challenges.

On restrictions, the letter says:

“We continue to navigate the biggest health and care challenge the world has seen.

“It is confusing and concerning that the different UK governments have set out their own different rules and regulations in relation to the management of the pandemic.

“Nursing professionals are questioning the level and nature of the variation between governments.

“We therefore ask that as Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to work with counterparts across government on a more cautious approach for England without further delay.

On staff absences and protection, the letter says:

“Aligned to this is the risk identified by our members and supported by figures issued by the NHS in England and which reveal high levels of staff absence due to Covid-19. The health and care system in England, already short tens of thousands of professionals, can ill afford the current losses.

“We request that current operating guidance covering personal protective equipment (PPE) is added to, thus ensuring the highest levels of workplace safety for our members and preventing a postcode lottery from developing.

On the staffing plan for the ‘mini Nightingales’, the letter says:

“As you would expect our members have significant concerns regarding these approaches, not only from a capacity perspective but from a capability perspective too.

“Our members are particularly concerned as to how the staffing of the Nightingale and other temporary beds may impact on their professional accountability and ensuring that delegation of any aspects of patient care does not leave them, or their patients, vulnerable.

“We ask for assurance that all nursing staff, no matter what their role, will be enabled to have freedom to speak up if they have concerns about any aspects of patient care or the treatment of staff, or any delegated duties, as well as protecting the duty of candour that our members take very seriously.”

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