Army medical staff plug shortages in accident and emergency department at Stafford Hospital

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: (Published 21 November 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d7566
  1. Clare Dyer
  1. 1BMJ

Army doctors and nurses have been brought in temporarily to plug staff shortages threatening safety at Stafford Hospital, in what is thought to be the first such instance in the NHS in England.

Two emergency doctors and four nurses from the Defence Medical Services have been drafted into the hospital’s accident and emergency department, which has only four of its complement of six consultants.

A national shortage of accident and emergency consultants and bad publicity arising from a series of investigations and inquiries into poor standards of care at the hospital have made it hard to fill the posts.

As a temporary measure Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the hospital, has also decided to close the emergency department from 10 pm to 8 am for three months from 1 December while it continues to try to recruit more staff. The trust estimates that about 27 patients each night would have to seek help from hospitals in nearby towns instead.

Last month the Care Quality Commission issued a formal warning after inspectors found a shortage of suitably trained and qualified nursing staff on duty during an unannounced visit (BMJ 2011;343:d6562, 11 Oct, doi:10.1136/bmj.d6562).

Stafford Hospital has been in the headlines since an investigation by the Healthcare Commission in 2009 found at least 400 excess deaths there between 2005 and 2008 and deficiencies at “virtually every stage” of emergency care (BMJ 2009;338:b1141, doi:10.1136/bmj.b1141). An independent inquiry chaired by Robert Francis QC found that Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust had been so preoccupied with cutting its deficit that it had “lost sight of its fundamental responsibility to deliver safe care.”

Pressure by the campaigning group Cure the NHS secured a public inquiry, also chaired by Mr Francis, whose hearings garnered extensive press coverage. The inquiry, intended to learn lessons for the wider NHS, is hearing closing submissions this week and is expected to report in the New Year.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said, “Defence Medical Services are working in Mid Staffs on a temporary basis. The hospital is working with other NHS organisations to overcome its recruitment difficulties, to provide the best possible accident and emergency service.”

The military personnel are scheduled to leave by 6 January 2012 at the latest.


Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d7566

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