A CLIMATE of fear is leading to nursing staff being forced to take on tasks they are unqualified for, Hywel Dda Community Health Council’s Pembrokeshire Local Committee Meeting heard last week.

Speaking at a public forum immediately following the meeting, Julie Milewski told members serious concerns were being raised by staff.

“Are the health board aware on a daily basis qualified staff are being redeployed to areas where they have no expertise?

“The staff are afraid to raise their concerns.

"They are afraid for their registration; they are afraid they will be asked to do things they are not competent to do.

"They are afraid over their jobs. The staff are afraid to speak to people who are more senior.”

County Director Sue Lewis replied: “We would not, neither would we expect, a nurse to work outside their competencies.”

Julie Milewski added: “Maybe it needs a top-down approach; because I’m raising it in a public forum.”

Withybush is also currently short of nearly 40 members of staff the meeting heard.

Mrs Lewis said there was a shortfall of just over 36 full-time posts at Withybush, with 242 full time equivalent staff currently at the hospital and 121 support workers.

“We’re still trying to attract staff,” she said.

“We will continue, we’ve looked at a bigger recruitment drive and putting some more public information out there to get people to come forward. It is the future of the hospital.”

She said the reason for failing to attract staff to west Wales was simply location.

“It’s more where we are; Carmarthenshire can draw from Swansea, for Pembrokeshire, geographically, it’s not that easy to commute from Swansea, or even from Carmarthenshire.”

She added: “We need to retain the staff we’ve got, to do that we’ve got to ensure they are motivated.”

CHC member Sidney Jones said reports in the local press about the future of the hospital may discourage nurses taking up posts at Withybush.

“It is something we’ve got to work around,” he added.

Mrs Lewis said: “It’s not just about nursing staff, we are working very hard to promote a positive image; it is about being open and transparent. But actually we need to support our staff; that is about us being clear about the future of Withybush and getting that out there.”

Speaking after the meeting, Lisa Gostling, Director of Workforce and Organisational Development, said: “I would like to repeat the reassurances provided at Thursday’s meeting that we would not expect any member of staff to work outside of their competencies.

“We cannot stress strongly enough to our staff that genuine concerns raised with the university health board will be dealt with responsibly, professionally and confidentially.

“Our advice to all members of staff is if something at work is troubling you, please tell us. Comprehensive advice about how to deal with your concerns without fear of victimisation, discrimination, retribution or detriment is available on the Staff Intranet Policies and Procedures.”

Members were also told of an unprecedented increase in sickness levels leading to immense pressures on Withybush’s A&E service immediately after Christmas.

Mrs Lewis said: “Winter pressures occur every year, what we’ve seen this year is additional pressure, they usually start somewhere around the second week of January; we’ve seen an unprecedented increase on our A&E, this year we’ve seen that pressure start immediately after the Christmas break.

“On Christmas day there were 49 people, by the 27th 129 people, 110 on the 30th, 101 on the 1st, 121 on the 3rd and 121 on the 5th; around 40-50 per cent have actually converted into admissions; we’ve got a lot of ill, sick elderly people.”

Members heard the normal admission rate would be some 30 per cent.

“It does put pressure on our ability to staff these beds; we’ve brought in other staff through banks and agencies. It’s not ideal, but given the level that’s there we’ve had to do that.”

She stressed the need for people to use the most appropriate services.

“We get people coming into the door that may be able to use the community pharmacy or people who have minor ailments or injuries.

“We need to continue to get these messages out there for the public to use the most appropriate services.”

CHC member Dennis Evans highlighted the ChooseWell campaign, a 2013 Welsh Government initiative to help people choose where best to get medical attention using a guide which gets people to think about the severity of their symptoms.