CHARD Hospital’s inpatient beds are set to remain closed for the foreseeable future as the trust in charge reveals staffing levels have not improved sufficiently.

The report was delivered to the Somerset Partnership Trust board and discussed at a meeting this morning, and carried strong recommendations to keep inpatient beds at Chard, Shepton Mallet and Dene Barton Hospitals closed.

The inpatient beds at Chard Hospital closed at the start of November, although the minor injuries unit, the physio and outpatient departments are still open.

The SomPar report revealed that “there has been insufficient material change in the staffing position or vacancy rate, and the forecast position indicates that this will not change sufficiently by March 2018 to enable reopening all of the temporarily closed wards.”

Following the board meeting, a trust spokesman said: “The board agreed to support the continued temporary closure of the inpatient wards at Chard... and noted that, while the decision was difficult it was the right one to make, in the interests of protecting patient safety and supporting the current staff given the challenging staffing levels.”

A public consultation took place in December and January, and found widespread public support for the reopening of the community hospital inpatient beds.

However, the report added: “A review of the information confirms that the staffing position as at January 19 has not sufficiently improved and pressures within the system, together with levels of staff sickness absence, mean that it is not sustainable to safely deliver inpatient care across 13 wards.”

The decision to consolidate inpatient beds was taken in September of last year, with SomPar saying the decision needed to be made ‘in order to maintain patient safety in the light of the deteriorating staffing position.’ With the current bed closures in place, the partnership-wide vacancy rate is 22.76 per cent, and the current registered nurse vacancy number is equivalent to 20.49 full-time employees.

If all wards were reopened, an additional 17.83 WTE (whole-time equivalent) registered nurses would be required. The total vacancy rate would be equivalent to 38.32 nurses.

Chard & Ilminster News:

The report said: “It is clear that, while there has been an improvement in the recruitment position, there has been insufficient material change in relation to the staffing issues that triggered the original decision in September 2017 and there is no immediate prospect of significant improvement.

“Patient, public and staff feedback is strongly in favour of the re-opening of the beds across all 13 community hospitals and suggests alternative models for temporary closures if this is not possible.

“However, while the winter escalation remains in place, neither re-opening the beds nor the alternative models are viable.”

It also said the temporary measures have helped during the challenging winter period, and ‘recommended supporting the continued temporary closure of Dene Barton, Chard and Shepton Mallet Community Hospitals, but with plans to review the position on a monthly basis, and a further report to be presented to the board at the March meeting.’