Recruitment crisis at Friarage discussed in Parliament

Rishi Sunak MP discussing the A&E issues with doctors and nurses at the Friarage Hospital last Friday.

A recruitment crisis which threatens the A&E department at the Friarage Hospital has been raised in the House of Commons.

Health minister Philip Dunne agreed to meet Richmond MP Rishi Sunak to discuss the shortage of doctors after the MP urged him to press the hospital’s management to do everything it could to find more critical care clinicians and anaesthetists.

Mr Sunak said he had also written to the trust which runs the hospital asking that it re-double efforts to recruit doctors to keep a good range of services running.

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Staff at the hospital were told last week that the South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust was struggling to recruit the critical care doctors and anaesthetists on which the A&E service and other acute medical services depended.

Mr Sunak organised meetings with senior doctors, nurse and other staff at the hospital and also the hospital’s management last Friday.

At a meeting with more than 40 doctors, nurses and medical staff, Mr Sunak was told about the importance of the A&E/critical care to the hospital’s ability to treat very ill patients.

One doctor said: “If you lose the A&E and the ability to look after patients who fall seriously ill suddenly, you lose the ability to do a lot of other procedures.”

Mr Sunak pushed Siobhan McArdle, chief executive of the South Tees trust, to look at the trust’s recruitment campaign which has been running for a year with no success.

In response to Mr Sunak’s enquiries regarding a system-wide approach to staffing, she and Adrian Clements, the Friarage’s recently appointed medical director, also agreed to look at rosters of doctors based at the James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough, which the trust also runs, to see if they could help provide cover at the Friarage.

Mr Sunak said: “I am sure many people will find it hard to understand why the trust struggles to attract doctors to the Friarage – a modern hospital in an attractive part of the UK. I have asked that the trust looks at every possibility in finding the doctors to keep the unit operating as it does at present.”

The MP said he would also investigate the possible use of incentives to attract doctors as he understood a “golden hello” scheme had operated in other parts of the country facing similar problems.

“I have also asked the South Tees management to look at deploying at the Friarage some anaesthetists currently based solely at James Cook, if only temporarily.” He added: “For too long there has been a one-way street with resources heading to Middlesbrough.”

Mr Sunak said that Friarage staff had told him that the recruitment problem was made worse by the lack of a clearly set-out and communicated future for the Friarage.

“We need to have a positive vision for the Friarage’s future,” Mr Sunak said.

“Having spoken to many of the hospital’s doctors – who incidentally love working at the Friarage – it seems that part of the recruitment problem is that the longstanding uncertainty about the hospital may be stopping doctors from applying for posts here. The trust has to fix that.”

“I have pledged to do everything in my power to keep services at the Friarage and will continue to do so. We now know exactly what the challenges are which is a start. I would like to thank everyone working at the Friarage and the management for giving me the benefit of their knowledge and opinion this week.”

In his letter to the Trust, Mr Sunak also asked management to consider investing in the Friarage so it could do more elective surgery over time which would generate more revenue and send a positive signal. He also requested the Trust ensure proper representation of the Friarage’s interests on the Trust’s Board and across its management and to take into account when planning services the growth in households in Northallerton and Catterick areas which would result from new residential developments.

Mr Sunak said he would continue to talk to the hospital’s management and staff and Ministers about the challenges at the Friarage.