What is causing the problems at Royal Cornwall Hospital?

High demand and lack of resources have seen RCHT management declare a Black Alert. UNISON explains why problems at Royal Cornwall Hospital are part of a bigger NHS crisis.

We initially responded to these questions in an enquiry from Devon and Cornwall Media.

The Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust was placed in special measures two months or so ago – what does that news mean for staff at the Trust?

“Staff care desperately about the work they do. They want to deliver the best care for Cornwall. The trust needs to have open conversations with staff, design an improvement plan with them and implement it to turn the situation around.

“Staff feel overworked and undervalued. The pride that comes with an NHS badge is brilliant to see, but the government have been running down that goodwill thanks to years of under-investment. A seven year pay cap for health workers has left them struggling to make ends meet.

“Cornwall’s six Tory MPs have been invisible throughout this crisis. These six need to get serious about fixing our NHS, and hold Theresa May’s feet to the fire until more money is provided.

“Black Alert at the hospital is a sad recognition of reality on the ground. This level of pressure is unsustainable. Patients are not getting access to care they need despite staff working round the clock to look after them.”

How have the cuts announced by Government been felt at local level? How does that translate on the ground?

“Long-term underfunding of the NHS and cuts to council budgets are making it harder to deliver good services. Inadequate social care is hitting the Trust and there are recruitment and retention issues because of the extreme pressure on staff. The government requires the Trust to provide more services without the resources to do so.

“A £277m gap in funding is predicted by the RCH Trust by 2020/21. This is rooted in the Tory government refusing to provide enough money for our NHS.

“NHS staff and patients need their local MPs to bang the table and get a solution for local NHS services. While the NHS is falling apart Cornwall’s six Tories have gone AWOL

“RCH stated that even if they achieved all their efficiency savings, a frankly unlikely prospect, the Trust would still be £56m short. This is not a problem that can be solved without a big injection of funds.”

Creeping privatisation is an issue many people have talked to us and expressed concern about. What is UNISON’s view on it?

“Too much of our NHS is already run by private companies. In RCHT for example, cleaning services have been privatised to Mitie. The best patient care is delivered by one NHS team working together. Privatisation makes integrating services harder and often has hidden costs.

“You can see the results of privatisation in social care, where all the risk is on staff and patients who endure poor working conditions and often struggle to access the care they need. Public commissioners are also under pressure as private companies hand contracts back unexpectedly. Public services should be in public ownership.”

Is Cornwall particularly bad for under staffing levels, funding etc compared with other parts of the South West like Devon or Bristol?

“RCHT has a 15% vacancy rate for nursing staff which is a third higher than the national average. Cornwall’s rurality presents a challenge for public services and in the case of healthcare it can be difficult for people to reach hospitals. But there’s no fundamental barrier to decent healthcare for all, if the government will provide the funds to deliver it.

“NHS services in Cornwall have been starved of the resources they need to provide decent care. After seven years of pretending the NHS can survive on static funding while demand and costs rise, it is time for the Tories to change course.”

Are you an NHS worker concerned about problems at Royal Cornwall Hospital or another Trust? Get in touch on southwest@unison.co.uk