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Ulster Hospital: More staff needed, inspection finds

The Ulster Hospital in Dundonald. Picture by Justin Kernoghan, Photopress

THE Ulster Hospital must recruit more nurses, free up staff to attend training and improve patients' care records, an inspection has found.

The report by the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) raised serious concerns about nurse staffing levels and the knock-on effect on morale.

An unannounced inspection of a medical and a surgical ward and the emergency department of the hospital near east Belfast was carried out over four days in February this year.

Although the report praised caring and courteous staff, it raised concerns about staff numbers and, in one ward, a patient bed that was blocking an emergency exit.

Staff in medical ward 13 told inspectors that morale was low, communication was not always effective and nurses complained of a lack of support from senior management.

The report found that a patient bed, which staff said was "permanently in use", had been placed in a corridor blocking access to an emergency exit.

Inspectors said the ward seemed disorganised and cluttered, partly due to a lack of space. They also raised issues including lack of nursing supervision, delayed patient discharge, poor patient flow, and inadequate staffing levels.

An inspection of surgical ward 11 found that it was funded for around 28 nurses but only around 18 were employed. The report said it was difficult to recruit and retain staff because the ward is to be closed.

Although staff tried to maintain patients' dignity, day surgery patients had to change in the ward toilets.

The emergency department also suffered from low staff numbers and essential equipment was not always available at busy times, the report found.

It said although medical records were good, nursing records were not completed in line with best practice guidelines.

Staff themselves raised concerns about low morale, overcrowding and patient dignity.

Olive Macleod, RQIA's chief executive, said: "At the Ulster Hospital, while we observed compassionate staff who showed empathy to patient, in every area inspected we had concerns about: nurse staffing levels – which led to reports of low staff morale; patient's care records; and training for staff."

She said the RQIA recognised that an increase in admissions had put pressure on staff and impacted on "effective and compassionate care".

"However, it is vitally important that this continues to be delivered - even at times of such pressures," she said.

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