SOUTHEND Hospital has been ordered to improve over fears staff shortages and a reliance on agency workers is putting patients at risk.

The Care Quality Commission raised concerns about three main areas - medical care, services for children and young people and end of life care - after inspectors visited in January.

In a report, published yesterday, the hospital was given an overall rating of requires improvement.

Out of 28 members of staff interviewed as part of the inspections, 13 expressed serious concerns about staff shortages impacting patient care. Data shown to inspectors revealed a reliance on agency staff, with inconsistent availability.

Sir Mike Richards, chief inspector for hospitals at the commission, said: “There were shortages in permanent consultant staffing, particularly on Bedwell Acute Medical Service and in the department of medicine for the elderly.

“Data provided by the trust showed the actual number of consultants in these specialities was consistently below the planned number. The trust provided information showing that vacant posts were covered by agency doctors, however medical staff told us that agency cover was not consistently available.”

Surgery and urgent and emergency care was praised - with inspectors giving this area a good rating.

The report also commended the use of a stroke emergency phone and “innovative” surgical techniques which were improving the treatment of stroke patients.

The introduction of the Trauma Assessment Centre in A&E, which has streamlined patient care, was also highlighted as an area of success.

Denise Townsend, director of nursing at Southend Hospital said steps are already being taken to improve.

She said: “The trust was fully aware of the risks and issues contained in this report and highlighted them to the CQC during their inspection.

“We were pleased to see the report acknowledges several areas of outstanding practice.

“Our trust, in common with trusts across the NHS, continues to experience challenges in nursing and medical recruitment, but we do have a recruitment plan in place and are working with our colleagues at Basildon and Broomfield hospitals to ensure staffing levels remain safe and patients continue to receive high quality care.”