Hospitals’ jobs shock

Staff morale at North Walsham cottage hospital is 'very low' and workers are shocked that they will have to apply for jobs at the town's new hospital in competition with nurses from Aylsham's doomed St Michael's, it emerged this week.

And Nikki Ward, Royal College of Nursing (RCN) assistant regional officer for Norfolk, said staff at St Michael's were worried about their future job security, as well as logistical problems about travelling to and from the new hospital.

The news coincides with an announcement that nesting birds are holding up work on North Walsham's planned new 24-bed unit – and Aylsham's hospital has been given another temporary stay of execution.

NHS chiefs say the need to transfer patients from North Walsham to St Michael's during building work means the Aylsham unit will now stay open until early 2012. The 26-bed hospital was due to shut in 2010 but the date was later changed to this autumn.

A North Walsham nurse told the News that when details of the town's planned new hospital were first revealed four years ago, staff had been led to believe they would all move into the replacement building.

But, at a meeting on May 24, they learned there would be no automatic transfer. Instead they would be 'put in a pot' together with staff from St Michael's for jobs on the new ward.

They had been told that some of them could be offered alternative jobs 'in the community,' said the nurse, who asked not to be identified.

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'People are upset at the way it's been handled and are generally worried. It's all very unclear and uncertain,' said the nurse. 'Why couldn't they have told us from the beginning that we would need to re-apply for our jobs? Morale is very low at the moment although everyone's doing their best to show willing.'

Some senior staff members at North Walsham, with many years' experience, feared they could lose out to nurses with degrees from Aylsham, and there was also confusion about what a 'community' role might be, the nurse added.

Laura Clear, Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust's deputy director of service pathways, said no redundancies were anticipated and staff had first been told about the job-pool plans on April 20.

'The trust has decided that as we are opening a new hospital and a brand new inpatient service in North Walsham, we must ensure we have the right skill mix to deliver the very best care for our patients. We felt it would be unfair not to open up the opportunity to work in this brand new unit to our experienced and expert staff at both of these community hospitals,' said Ms Clear.

She added: 'Members of staff who choose not to apply for a role at North Walsham, or who are not offered a role there, will be given full support to find other appropriate opportunities working within our trust.'

Some staff had already identified promotion opportunities within the trust which they were keen to apply for. All trust roles were within the community, according to Ms Clear. Some were based in hospitals, others in GP practices or in patients' homes.

Ms Ward said the RCN was working closely with staff at both hospitals, together with the trust's management, to ensure the transition went as smoothly as possible.

Planning restrictions forbidding building while birds are nesting mean the North Walsham work cannot go ahead until blackbirds and dunnocks have quit their homes in trees scheduled to be cut down to make way for the hospital.

Meanwhile admissions to North Walsham will stop from June 27 and patients will instead be sent to St Michael's. Staff and resources will also be temporarily transferred to Aylsham from North Walsham which is expected to close in July, when groundwork on the new building will get under way.

Ms Clear said: 'The final closure date of St Michael's will be dependent upon the North Walsham rebuild schedule. We anticipate that North Walsham will open its doors to patients early in the new year, and St Michael's would close very soon after that.'

* Invited officials and members of the public will get a chance to look around the revamped Rebecca House, next to the Walsham hospital site, next Tuesday, following its �1.6m refurbishment to provide outpatient services, clinics and offices.