THE future for Somerset’s community hospitals looks ‘worrying’ after a recent report revealed vacancy rates in one South Somerset facility at nearly 50 per cent.

The report, Somerset Partnership NHS Foundation Trust – Update on Community Hospitals in Somerset, was published on September 20 by Phil Brice, director of strategy and corporate affairs at Somerset Partnership.

It revealed vacancy rates for registered general nurses (RGNs) ranged from 20 per cent to 48.7 per cent across the four hospitals in South Somerset.

Meanwhile, the age profile of the nursing workforce means that in 8 of the 13 hospitals, more than 35 per cent of the existing registered general nurse workforce are already eligible for retirement.

A spokesman for Somerset Partnership said: “We briefed Somerset County Council’s scrutiny for policies, adults and health committee about the challenges we face in operating the 13 community hospitals across the county.

“These include significant issues in recruiting and retaining registered nurses in our hospital wards where we have almost 25 per cent vacancies for these staff.

“We also shared concerns about the condition of many of our hospitals which range from state of the art to much older buildings which are difficult to sustain high quality care. We agreed to brief the next committee meeting where we will provide more detail about individual hospitals and our plans.”

Nora Arnold is the chairman of the League of Friends of Chard and District Community Hospital.

She said: “We can’t get nurses at the moment because they haven’t been trained yet. I think this is a problem all through the country.”

With regards to the number of nurses eligible to retired, she added: “This is the case with Chard as well, and I think it will affect us but are looking for more people.

“They have looked at moving us to being a nursing centre, providing at-home care. That could happen if we don’t get the nurses, but nothing has been finalised.

“It is very worrying for the NHS. I think it started when nurses had to have a degree instead of when they did training in hospitals from scratch.

“It was more of a vocation for them then, and I think we will continue to have problems unless it is made attractive to them.”

The report also revealed there are 30.85 wte (whole time equivalent) vacancies for Band 5 registered general nurses, 20.98 per cent of the total.