HOSPITAL bosses are hoping major improvement works at the John Radcliffe will boost morale for under-pressure staff as more than a thousand vacancies remain unfilled.

Professor Sir Jonathan Montgomery, who took over as Chair of Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (OUH) in April, spoke to the paper about his 'anxiety' over helping stressed doctors and nurses 'feel better about working here' in the face of ongoing staff shortages, the high cost of living locally, and parking issues.

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The most recent annual survey of staff at the trust, which also includes the Churchill Hospital, Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre and Banbury's Horton General Hospital, saw 62 per cent say they work unpaid extra hours, while hundreds admitted that work-related stress had made them ill.

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Professor Sir Jonathan Montgomery

There are currently 1,091 vacancies across the trust, with 588 of them for nursing and midwifery roles.

A Care Quality Commission report released this month, meanwhile, downgraded the trust from 'good' to 'requires improvement'.

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It highlighted how 'disheartened' staff had reluctantly accepted a 'substandard' working environment, adding: "Staff we spoke with in main theatres had become tired of reporting the poor state of the theatre department."

Areas in some of the theatres and wards were described at the time as 'damaged' and inspectors said they 'posed potential risks' to patient and staff safety.

Sir Jonathan said he hoped, along with ongoing efforts to attract more staff, work to refurbish the main theatres in the John Radcliffe and a major expansion of the hospital's emergency department, both of which got underway in April, would instil confidence that changes were now taking place.

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Professor Sir Jonathan Montgomery, centre, leads the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Emergency Department at the John Radcliffe in April. He's pictured with Emergency Dept consultant Sachin Mandalia and Emergency Department Matron Katy Mimpress.Picture by Ric Mellis

He explained: "I think it was a tipping point where staff stopped believing things were going to happen.

"Even if the work hasn't reached them yet, I hope staff can see things are being done."

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He said staff had also been involved in the way these improvements would be carried out, which was a 'relatively new' approach in the last 12 months that helped them feel listened to.

On the CQC report, which was the result of visits in November, December and January, Sir Jonathan said it had not been surprising, given his experience, when he interviewed for the Chair position and showed a large, busy trust 'under a lot of pressure'.

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He added: "I was pleasantly surprised by how I found things when I started in April. The CQC report is a snapshot in time. Things were in hand by the time I joined.

"I think what was important to stress for staff was this wasn't a reflection on them and point out the positive things the report highlighted about the high level of patient care."

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Dr Bruno Holthof, the trust's chief executive, said the trust's 'first, second and third' priorities were all workforce, both stopping a high turnover in staff and increasing recruitment.

Staff shortages have plagued the trust in recent years, with the high cost of living in Oxford and parking issues for both employees and patients at the Headington site some of the main reasons cited for leaving, despite the trust's respected reputation.

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Dr Bruno Holthof

As well as the emergency department expansion, which is set to create an extra nine bays for the immediate care of seriously ill patients in time for use at the end of the year, there is another project on the horizon.

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Plans by the trust for a multi-storey car park are expected to go in later this year, though due to Oxford City Council's rules this will not create any new spaces.

Dr Holthof said despite this it would aid better organisation, which would help ease traffic issues and the trust was working hard to 'chip away' at the problem.

To see a list of current vacancies visit