Bishop’s Castle Community Hospital shut last month after months of workforce pressure – including self-isolations and a recruitment campaign that saw “little success” – left staffing levels dangerously low.
Shropshire Community Health NHS Trust Chief Executive Patricia Davies said the move is temporary but, before the closure, the Union Street site was staffed by “100 agency staff” for a couple of weeks.
The board eventually felt it “no longer sustainable” to keep it open, she added.
Chairman Nuala O’Kane said it was “one of the hardest decisions we have taken” in her time on the trust board, but said there had been “near misses” at the hospital and their ultimate responsibility was to “provide our services in a safe, sustainable way and make sure we do no harm”.
In her regular report to board members, Ms Davies said: “On November 1, the trust board, this board, made a decision to close Bishop’s Castle on temporary grounds on the basis of safety, given staffing levels and issues.
“We’ve been reporting difficulty around staffing over a number of months. However, there was a tipping point in relation to staffing and we were running for a couple of weeks on 100 per cent agency.
“When we were looking at the rotas going forward, the trust felt that, given the level of staffing, the fact we are going into winter and the fact we were running on 100 per cent agency and it was having an impact on other associated services, it was no longer sustainable for us to keep the service going.”
She noted that an impact assessment was carried out, “and that remains live and is being reviewed on a regular basis”.
Ms Davies said a “huge” engagement exercise also took place, involving staff and the local medical practice “who were, to use one of the GP’s comments, ‘relieved’ we had taken the decision to temporarily close”.
“We are continuing to have a focus on recruitment within Bishop’s Castle and south Shropshire area,” Ms Davies said.
“Some of the staff have, by request and choice, been redeployed to local services in Ludlow and the surrounding areas.
“We are absolutely committed with our partners and the public and commissioners to engage now on the future models of care and we will be doing so over the winter months with our commissioners and the public and, indeed, wider stakeholders.”
Ms O’Kane added that the temporary closure was “a decision taken by this whole board”.
She said: “We could absolutely see the dangers that were coming down the line, as it were, that if we continued to run the service in the challenged way we were doing, it was only a matter of time before harm came to patients,” she said, adding that the situation pre-closure was having a “detrimental” impact on staff.
“We know one member of staff was even taking it upon herself to sleep in at the hospital, she was so worried about leaving it with agency staff who didn’t know the service, and we had had a couple of near-misses around that.
“The job of this board is to make sure we provide our services in a safe sustainable way and make sure we do no harm. Sometimes that does involve difficult decisions and this.
“We will consult with the local community, we will look at what options are available and ensure that we continue to serve the residents of Bishop’s Castle and surrounding areas.”