A MAJOR recruitment drive for nurses launched by Southampton hospital bosses is already helping to tackle concerns raised by inspectors over staffing levels risking quality of patient care.

That was the message last night from hospital chiefs who were summoned to the city council to explain why Southampton General Hospital had come under fire for a shortage of nurses.

Judy Gillow, director of nursing at the hospital, reassured councillors on Southampton City Council’s Health and Overview Scrutiny Committee that filling nurses’ vacancies has been their “top priority” for many months.

As previously reported Southampton General Hospital was one of 17 hospitals which had staffing levels criticised by the Care Quality Commission, which judged levels to be of a “moderate concern”.

Their report on Southampton said some patients had been unsupervised for long periods, resulting in an increased risk of falling, and there were not enough staff on duty to meet people’s needs.

Another concern was the high dependence on agency staff, resulting in a lack of continuity care.

Speaking to the panel Mrs Gillow said that the concerns raised by the inspectors were a disappointing blow but that the unannounced visit happened on a day when the hospital was under “significant operational pressure” and on Black Alert.

She said: “It was a blow to staff, it was a blow to the trust and it was disappointing.

But there is light at the end of the tunnel with the recruitment drive we are having.

“We were pleased about the patient feedback in the report and also pleased that many of our wards that were inspected had no issues found.”

She added that the hospital has had an action plan in place to solve staffing levels since before the inspection in October last year, which has seen 110 nurses posts filled over the last year, bringing the numbers of nurses at the trust to 3,346.

This has included hospital bosses taking two trips abroad to recruit staff, which has resulted in the hiring of 90 nurses.

Councillors were told that the current vacancy rate is nine per cent but that it should be down to five per cent by the summer and to 2.5 per cent by autumn.