A DESPERATE shortage of NHS nurses will force Oxford's community hospital to temporarily close at the end of this month, it has been revealed.

The move taken by Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust on safety grounds will see inpatient services shut at the City Community Hospital with existing patients having to move to other units across the county.

Trust bosses said staffing levels had become so serious that more than two-thirds of nursing posts will be vacant by the end of May leaving them with little choice but to close the 12-bed ward located in the Fulbrook Centre on the Churchill site in Headington.

Oxfordshire’s NHS services, along with others across the country, have been battling a staffing crisis for a number of years with the high cost of living in the area said to be the main barrier to attracting new staff.

Read again: Stress and mental health problems soar at Oxford hospitals

The trust said yesterday that patients currently in City Community Hospital will be individually assessed, however, it is predicted that four of these will transfer home with the remainder moving to community hospitals in Abingdon or Witney where more beds will be opened.

The Oxford beds will remain closed until at least September when trust chiefs will review the staffing situation.

An Oxford Health spokesman said: “This closure is for patient safety reasons, as there are insufficient registered nursing staff to ensure safe staffing of the unit across all shifts, due to two thirds of posts falling vacant by month end.”

Oxford Health, which also runs the county’s mental health services, manages eight community hospitals across the county at Wantage, Witney, Didcot, Henley, Wallingford, Bicester Abingdon and Oxford.

According to the latest NHS figures the trust employs 5,343 staff with just over 13 per cent of posts being vacant as of March.

Also read: Work-related stress is making Oxford hospital staff to become unwell

The trust said existing staff had been working extra hours to make up the shortfall along with agency staff, however the model was ‘not sustainable’ in the long term.

The Oxford Health spokesman added: “City has had high vacancy rates in registered nursing with around half of posts vacant since 2016.

“Additional nursing cover has been provided by two senior staff, equivalent to one more post.

“With staff leaving at the end of May, almost two-thirds of posts will be vacant.”

“Staff shortages at City are despite strenuous efforts to recruit through fairs, open days and online campaigns.

“For example, previous job adverts that have had over 700 views, have not converted to a single application.

“The reasons for this are thought to include the unit’s relatively isolated location on the site of an attractive alternative employment environment and the high cost of living in Oxford.

“For existing staff, shortages have created additional pressure while caring for patients who have more acute needs than in the past.

“Agency cover relieves some of this but does not provide the consistency of care that these patients need from permanent staff with local expertise and experience.”

Read also: Oxford Health Trust temporary staffing costs rise to near record levels

National safe staffing guidelines require two registered nurses per shift to ensure safe patient care for people who are typically frail with complex physical needs.

The closure is the latest in a line of bed closures across both community and acute hospitals in recent years due to the ongoing battle to recruit NHS staff in Oxfordshire.

Union leaders, politicians and hospital bosses have backed calls for an ‘Oxford weighting’ to boost salaries of key workers, similar to that in London, to make working in Oxford a more attractive prospect to new NHS recruits.

Recent research by Unison found that some workers at the lower end of the NHS pay scale in Oxfordshire spent as much as 85 per cent of their monthly wage on rent for a one-bed flat.

Speaking earlier this month, mental health nurse at Oxford Health and Unison spokesman, Ian McKendrick said: “Staff need to be able to do more than just work, eat and sleep.

“Without action on the cost of living to help recruit staff and also to allow staff to relax and recuperate on their days off, it’s only going to get worse.

“But it just isn’t being addressed.”

The Fulbrook Centre at the Churchill site will continue to host two 23-bed older adult mental health wards provided by Oxford Health.