Oxford Health is temporarily closing its City Community Hospital Ward, a 12-bedded unit at the Fulbrook Centre on the Churchill Hospital site in Oxford at the end of May. This closure is for patient safety reasons, as there are insufficient registered nursing staff (RNs) to ensure safe staffing of the unit across all shifts.

Two thirds of posts will fall vacant by the end of this month. Nationally prescribed Safer Staffing Guidelines require two RNs per shift to ensure safe patient care for people who are typically frail with complex physical needs.

Patients currently at City will be individually assessed and transferred according to their needs. It is predicted that four of these will transfer home with the remainder moving to community hospitals in Abingdon or Witney, which will each open more beds to accommodate them. Consistently half of City patients are from the wider county, half from Oxford City.

The overall community hospital bed stock across all sites will be maintained at an average of 138 beds subject to seasonal factors. This will be reviewed in September as part of winter planning to ensure that there are sufficient beds to meet anticipated increases in demand. This will include a full review of City Community Hospital bed provision and staffing.

City has had high staff vacancy rates in registered nursing with around half of posts vacant since 2016. Additional nursing cover has been provided by two senior staff, equivalent to one more post. With staff leaving at the end of May, almost two-thirds of posts will be vacant. Redeployment will be offered to all remaining staff (around 30, including RNs), and with no shortage of vacancies, Oxford Health will continue to recruit vigorously to its community hospital staff.

Staff shortages at City are despite strenuous efforts to recruit through fairs, open days and online campaigns. For example, previous job adverts that have had over 700 views, have not converted to a single application. The most recent has had 290 views since early April and no applicants.

The reasons for this are thought to include the unit’s relatively isolated location on the site of an attractive alternative employment environment and the high cost of living in Oxford. For existing staff, shortages have created additional pressure while caring for patients who have more acute needs than in the past. Agency cover relieves some of this but does not provide the consistency of care that these patients need from permanent staff with local expertise and experience. While staff have worked extra hours and managed agency cover, that is not sustainable and employment opportunities in the acute and nursing home sector have made it difficult to retain staff indefinitely.

The Fulbrook Centre will continue to host two older adult mental health wards provided by Oxford Health.