A 'HARD-HITTING' recruitment crisis that has plagued the John Radcliffe and Churchill hospitals has 'stabilised', the man in charge has said.

Dr Bruno Holthof, chief executive of Oxford University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said problems with chronic staff shortages are finally improving after a turbulent two years.

However he also warned that work so far, recruiting from as far as India and the Philippines, has still only levelled out the decline, and the hospitals must find more staff.

Dr Holthof was speaking yesterday at the officially reopening of two operating theatres following essential refurbishment, but he said: "The biggest capacity issue is people – not the physical space.

"We are still having to close certain theatres that we have available because of the lack of staff.

"We have been particularly hard hit in 2017/18 where we have lost people, now we are trying to keep people and increase numbers.

"Now it has stabilised, we need to continue to increase [staffing] particularly nurses and anaesthetists."

Read again: John Radcliffe Hospital trust 'crisis' as bed occupancy hits 100 per cent

Last month an internal performance report from the trust revealed the John Radcliffe (JR), Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre and Churchill, as well as Banbury's Horton General, were all operating at or near 100 per cent bed occupancy throughout April and May.

The regularly near-full state, some 15 per cent above recommended levels, has frequently forced the trust to close theatres and beds temporarily.

As of the end of June there were 1,091 vacancies across the trust, with 588 of them for nursing and midwifery roles.

Dr Holthof added: "We have been recruiting outside of the UK and have been successful in India and the Philippines.

"We are also looking at doctors from these areas too. It has been a national issue as we try to increase [staffing] levels but so far we have stabilised [numbers] having compensated the numbers [lost] in 2017/18."

The Oxford Times:

The improved outlook came as the trust unveiled its newly renovated theatres yesterday at the John Radcliffe, with eight suites upgraded and reopened.

However even that work followed an urgent notice from the Care Quality Commission in January over the 'dirty and dilapidated' operating theatres posing a potential risk to patients.

The notice raised serious failings spotted by inspectors during an unannounced inspection late last year.

It said ‘the fabric of the environment was found to be in a poor state of repair and effective cleaning could not be assured, presenting a potential infection control risk’.

Health campaigners blamed the worrying deterioration on a chronic lack of staff and underfunding in the NHS, although health chiefs at the trust refused to say if a lack of funding had played a part, or whether the conditions posed a risk to patient safety.

Read again: Shock over dirty and dilapidated John Radcliffe operating theatres

Urgent action from the trust has since resulted in the redevelopment of eight operating theatres officially unveiled yesterday.

The improvements include new flooring, newly-painted walls, reorganised and increased storage for equipment and medicines, better lighting, increased sockets and new electrical and data wiring.

The Oxford Times:

John Radcliffe theatres deputy matron Nicky Haigh said: "It all started back in April and we didn't come back until the end of July, so it was quite a long time with some [areas] completely relocated. Cardiac and spinal services were moved completely to the West Wing.

"It was a major exercise, with staff having to work in a new environment which was difficult for them and required a lot of tolerance."

Thorough planning between all staff including health bosses, theatre staff, estates, procurement, clinical engineering, IT and pharmacy, aimed to minimise impact for patients.

The closure amounted to roughly 10 per cent of the hospital's operations.

Ms Haigh added: "It is now all really fresh, and I love all the new paint plus the lighting is amazing.

"For patients and staff alike it is very welcoming and quite morale-lifting and is a much happier place to come into work.

"We can be proud to work here."

The Oxford Times:

Staff said the new operating lights would help in surgery and also make it easier to clean, as well as the increased storage room being more efficient for staff.

The Oxford Hospitals Charity also donated money to redecorate the neighbouring staff room and kitchen area to create a better space for staff taking a well-earned break.

Dr Holthof said: "The trust has excellent facilities on this site, as well as the Churchill and Nuffield which are all relatively recent buildings.

"The building in this part of the hospital with the operating theatres has not been refurbished for a long time, as it is so difficult to do when you are dependant on the physical operating space to deliver the service expected.

"So it was a difficult decision to take out capacity for the refurbishment."

Also read: John Radcliffe Hospital work to 'boost stressed staff morale'

He added: "The equipment has always been state of the art so it was more about improving the fabric of the theatres, making them easier to clean, better lighting, bigger storage."

The chief executive celebrated the reopening with staff and praised the improvements that have created a safer environment for patients.

He thanked staff for their collaboration, patience, and flexibility, while Ms Haigh added: "The team have been absolutely amazing."