Whittington use of agency staff criticised as pensioner is left lying in faeces

The Whittington is trying to cut down on its use of agency staff. Picture: Nigel Sutton

The Whittington is trying to cut down on its use of agency staff. Picture: Nigel Sutton - Credit: Nigel Sutton

The son of a pensioner treated at the Whittington Hospital has warned health bosses over its reliance on agency staff after having found his own mother lying in a ward covered in faeces.

Andreas Markou, whose mum suffers from osteoporosis, lamented the shortage of permanent nurses at the hospital in Archway and said agency staff “weren’t familiar with the specific needs of each patient”.

He said his mother’s experience after being admitted in September to treat an infection had left her “petrified” of going back.

Relaying the story to the hospital’s bosses during the board meeting earlier this month, he said: “I was coming in, finding mum in faeces, with the faeces having travelled back to where her bacterial infection was.

“On the doctor side of things, the care was really good. But on the nursing side of things – that’s where the problem happens.

“At night you seem to have two to three permanent nurses on the ward and then care assistants from agency nursing.

“They [agency staff] didn’t seem to have the time to listen and weren’t always familiar with the specific needs of each patient.

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“My mum is petrified of coming back.”

It comes as Whittington Health, the trust in charge of the hospital, continued its battle to drive down agency staffing costs.

Figures obtained by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) found the cash-strapped trust had spent £1.66million on agency staff between July and September 2014 alone – slightly down from 2013.

Published earlier this month, the RCN report said that trusts across the NHS were having problems with high agency staff numbers after being “hamstrung by short-term workforce cuts, cuts to nurse training places and poor morale which is making retention and recruitment difficult”.

It added: “Unless rapid action is taken, the NHS is expected to spend at least £980million on agency nursing staff by the end of this financial year. Over-reliance on agency staff impacts on continuity of care, which is bad for patients.”

Not long after Mr Markou relayed the story of his mother to hospital chiefs, board members were warned by finance officers that the hospital’s spending on staffing at the Whittington had become a “financial risk” for the trust.

Steve Hitchins, chairman of Whittington Health, said Mr Markou’s and his mother’s experience at the hospital “made us even more aware of some of the challenges we face”. He added: “The agency nurses contribute to some of the problems we have with money. We are trying to reduce the number. It’s slow progress.”