Ulster Hospital investigated for staff morale and stress issues

An unannounced inspection carried out at the Ulster Hospital in February found that there were serious concerns regarding the staffing levels for nurses and this was causing staff morale to fall.

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The inspection was conducted by the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority and is part of a programme across Northern Ireland that focuses on reassuring the public on the standard of hospital services they receive and looks at clinical staffing solutions.

The report into activity at the Dundonald Hospital found that the staffing levels were not adequate, but this didn’t impact on the compassion or empathy that was provided to the patients. However, low staff levels across the hospital did have an effect on staff morale, training, and patient records.

Countrywide staffing issues

This is not just an issue affecting this particular hospital and there is a need for more effective clinical staffing plans across the UK. A recent survey among UK doctors found that they have concerns regarding patient safety because of gaps in the rotas and that they feel pressured to take on more shifts to cover the demand.

Areas of concern

The medical ward that was inspected raised some of the more serious concerns, with issues regarding nurse supervision, delays in discharging patients, the poor flow of patients and an undesignated corridor bed being used that was positioned in front of an emergency exit.

The inspection team highlighted that there was an insufficient number of senior clinical decision makers on the ward and this resulted in it being run ineffectively. They also discovered a lack of junior staff, especially over weekends and at nights.

Understaffed but calm

Their inspection of the Emergency Department noted that cover levels were good and staff remained calm, even though it was a busy period. However, staff working in the department were concerned about staffing levels, crowding, ensuring the relevant clinical skills were available, workload and the privacy and dignity of patients.

A similar picture was painted of the surgical ward, which was also busy but had a calm and welcoming atmosphere.

The Ulster Hospital, which is managed by the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust, has been given feedback on all areas of the inspection and, as well as providing areas of concern, they were also showed departments that were implementing good practice.