UNION chiefs remain concerned about staffing levels at East Lancashire’s hospitals, despite a recent recruitment drive for consultants and nurses.

The Unison union acknowledged that progress has been made since the Royal Blackburn and Burnley General hospitals were placed in special measures last summer, but said there were still staffing issues during the night and weekend shifts.

According to board papers for March, the trust’s weekend death rate under the Summary Hospital-level Mortality Indicator (SHMI) is still slightly higher than the weekday rate, which suggests patients are more at risk during the weekend.

Staff shortages were raised as a key concern by NHS chief Sir Bruce Keogh last July, who made wide-ranging criticisms of the way East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust (ELHT) was run over several years.

Sean Gibson, of the Lancashrie branch of Unison, said: “The trust has made progress in recruiting more nurses and doctors since the Keogh Review, and we welcome this.

“But we remain concerned about staffing levels and the skills mix in East Lancashire, especially at weekends and at night. We will continue to work with the trust and to share our concerns about staffing levels."

Dr Ian Stanley, interim executive medical director at ELHT, said: “We have made massive strides in improving our staffing levels and we have employed 117 more nurses, 141 more healthcare assistants and 12 more consultants since April 2013.

“We have an increased number of consultants in the trust at the weekends so that all patients who need to be seen by a consultant are seen and within the emergency department and MAU (Medical Assessment Unit) there is the same amount of consultant cover at weekends as weekdays.

“Our weekend SHMI was previously well above the expected range but since we have increased consultant cover at weekends, we have seen it decrease and is now within the expected range - based on our own internal monitoring.”