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Ashworth `in crisis' over staff shortages.

A SEVERE shortage of staff is pushing Ashworth Hospital to crisis point, it was claimed last night.

Nearly pounds 5m has been spent on staff overtime during the last year - more than 7pc of the hospital trust's annual budget.

Concerned MPs are to visit the site today where they will discuss the problems with hospital chiefs.

Bosses are struggling to fill 80 staff vacancies at the high-security Maghull Hospital which houses Moors murderer Ian Brady.

The vacancies are mainly in nursing posts on the hospital's North site, which cares for male patients.

New figures released by Mersey Care Trust, which runs the hospital, show overtime levels across the Trust are currently double the total for September, 2001.

Nurses at the hospital claim between 20 and 30 extra staff are drafted in every day from other hospitals to fill the gaps.

chairman of Ashworth's Prison Officers Association, David Preece, said some mental health nurses are working 100 hours a month on top of their 37 1 2 -hour per week shifts. He said: ``There is a staff crisis at the hospital. The money that is being spent is an indication of how many extra hours are being put in by Ashworth staff.

``These excessive hours must affect the staff. They must be tired when they work and their attention must be affected.''

Staff working overtime between Monday and Friday are paid time-anda-half, while staff working overtime on bank holidays and between midnight Saturday and midnight Sunday receive double pay.

A spokeswoman for Ashworth Hospital said there were staff shortages in mental health hospitals across the NHS.

She said: ``There are always vacancies at the hospital but it must be remembered these vacancies are across the North site and not just in nursing. It doesn't mean we are not providing the full services to patients at the hospital.

``There are rules that govern the number of hours people can work. No one is required to work over time, it is done on a voluntary basis. Their performance is as importance to us as it is to them.''

It is believed there will be a large transfer of staff to the North site when the hospital's women's unit on the East site is closed in March, 2004.

The hospital's 50 women patients will either be moved to a new secure centre at Preston, or to other local medium secure units.

But, in a newsletter to staff, Ashworth bosses admitted: ``Even then, there will always be times when we just won't have enough staff.'' The spokeswoman added: ``We are not like a general hospital.

``When a patient has to visit court or another hospital they have to be accompanied by security staff.

``When this happens, the requirements of the ward they have left does not change.''

Last month, Bootle MP Joe Benton urged the House of Commons' health select committee to launch an investigation into conditions for patients and staff at the hospital.

Mr Benton and committee chairman and Wakefield MP, David Hinchliffe, are to inspect facilities today.

Mr Benton said: ``There are very serious issues involved here. If the hospital is bringing in staff from elsewhere, there will be implications for other medical institutions.

``I will raise these issues when I visit the site, particularly if the overtime bill is so high.''
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Oct 3, 2002
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