PATIENTS at Sunderland Royal Hospital are being treated in areas designated for those waiting to go home due to a shortage of space.
The Echo has learned that bosses have recently opened escalation wards in a discharge lounge, with seven patients being cared for there this week.
A discharge lounge is where patients can wait before going home after treatment at the hospital.
And it is alleged that just one nurse and two assistants were tasked with caring for the patients on the ward at one point, although hospital bosses today maintained the unit was “safely staffed”.
One member of staff, who chose not to be named, said: “The Royal has opened escalation wards due to winter pressures and there are now over 20 beds, plus bays, in the discharge lounge.
“It’s completely inappropriate to use bays in the discharge lounge to admit patients.
“All additional beds in the escalation ward were full over the last week, and in one case there was only two health care assistants and one nurse looking after them.
“This again is not enough staff to look after them.”
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) says it has concerns over staffing levels when patients are cared for in discharge lounges. Greg Canning, RCN officer, said: “While a number of trusts are currently experiencing winter pressures, it is vitally important that high quality care and patient safety is put first.
“In particular, we are seeking assurances from the City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust on the specific issue of staffing levels.
“We remain concerned that staffing levels risk falling below the levels required to deliver safe and sustainable care.
“The RCN is therefore urgently seeking clarification from the director of nursing as to the minimum staffing levels in operation at any one time, where contingency beds are being used.
“We are also seeking further more detailed clarification from the trust about how the discharge lounge is being used.”
In response, a spokeswoman for City Hospitals Sunderland said: “The trust, like all NHS organisations, puts plans in place to cope with the additional pressures that winter inevitably causes.
“Our plans include a whole range of initiatives some of which are city wide in collaboration with the local authority and the clinical commissioning group.
“Our own internal plans include a planned opening of additional contingency beds, 15 of which are on the Sunderland Royal Hospital site and a further 14 at Farmborough Court.
“These beds have been open since early November and a further 15 beds have been opened in recent weeks to cope with the increased number of admissions.
“All our wards are staffed by registered general nurses and health care assistants to ensure that patients receive a safe and appropriate level of care.
“The trust does have a discharge lounge, which is located on a ward, and overnight on Monday of this week seven patients, who were expected to be discharged the following day, were transferred into a bay overnight to release beds on our base wards to enable admissions following an unprecedented level of activity coming through our emergency department – in excess of 440 attendances.
“The trust can confirm that these seven patients were cared for in an appropriate environment which respected their privacy and dignity and was also safely staffed.
“The trust recognises the winter months are extremely challenging. Our priority will always be to ensure that if a local resident needs to be admitted to hospital that will be in Sunderland wherever possible, and can be assured that the care they receive will be safe and appropriate.”