At a Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust board meeting on Thursday, non-executive director Martin Phillips raised concerns surrounding staff absence, after it rose to a year high of 4.9 per cent in January.
Trust governor Barbara Porter said: “It’s not surprising that the staff are beginning to feel the strain because of the very high level of pressure they have been working under for so long now. I have to say, having been a patient myself last year, they are giving their all, every single one.
“We also can’t ignore that there has been some pretty horrible viruses around.”
Barbara said the staff’s willingness and dedication to their jobs were ‘total and complete’.
The trust faced unprecedented demand in services over the winter period, with A&E being placed on black alert over Christmas.
Marianne Griffiths, the trust’s chief executive, said the trust currently faced a shortage of around 120 staff.
A recruitment campaign for registered nurses on March 25 had 30 applicants and the trust plans to take on 100-120 nurses from the Philippines via a recruitment drive set to begin next month.
It is hoped the recruits will start in cohorts from late summer.
Ms Griffiths said: “Obviously we are recruiting. That is one of the main responses.
“We have to have bodies. It isn’t that we haven’t wanted that, we simply couldn’t get them and agencies couldn’t find them. It’s really a massive issue out there.
“I think staff need to know you’re doing something helpful. It doesn’t fix the immediate problem but it helps in morale terms.
“Our staff have given so much. They have been fantastic and worked all the hours God sends.”
In February, the trust held its first Schwartz Round – a meeting that provides staff from both clinical and administrative backgrounds the opportunity to talk about the emotional and social challenges they face working in a health care environment.
Mrs Porter has praised both the recruitment drive and Schwartz rounds.
She said: “With the Schwartz rounds, which I think are absolutely brilliant, they are actually talking about their own emotions. It’s a safe place where pastoral care can be administered.
“My experience with any nurses from abroad has been nothing but positive. They are made very welcome here. There’s a strong and vibrant Filipino community along the coastal strip.”
As reported in last week’s Herald & Gazette, the trust has fought back from a position which saw only 82.5 per cent of patients seen in A&E within four hours in December, to one of the best performing trusts in the country, with a first quarter (January 1 – March 30) performance figure of 95.87 per cent.
A lack of community care, an increase in seriously ill and elderly people attending A&E and older patients needing additional care once they had been discharged were all responsible for the high level of demand, according to Dr George Findlay, the trust’s medical director.