Epsom and St Helier hospitals have around 300 nursing vacancies combined and it's partially because of Brexit, according to their chief executive.

Daniel Elkeles also told Sutton Council’s scrutiny committee that the NHS trust’s “big negative” is staffing – with only 10 out of 26 vacancies being filled for a particular role in their respective A&E departments.

But there are plans to halve that gap in 2020 as he discussed a performance update report at a recent meeting.

He said: “There are lots of mentions [in the report] about workforce in our performance report and, broadly, we're doing okay on the total numbers of people employed in the trust but we're having more and more challenges with both recruitment and filling posts.

“It's not good to report that we have 300 nursing vacancies. People have asked before, 'Does that relate to Brexit?', to which a chunk of the answer is, 'Yes it does'.

“The big negative is staffing, we have never had so many gaps in A&E.

“Sometimes you could fill the gap with temporary staff, and sometimes you can't, and if you don't have sufficient senior decision-makers, senior doctors and senior nurses on duty, you can't treat the people as quickly.”

READ: Epsom and St Helier - NHS trust makes strides but still 'requires improvement'

Surrey Comet:

Dan Elkeles

He added that the vacancies are a contributing reason as to why their performance “isn’t as good”, but referred to a new role having been introduced – the associate nurse.

Eight recently secured their necessary qualifications, and another 10 are currently in training, while all of them have been recruited “locally”.

The role is one below registered nurse, but Cllr David Hicks asked whether there is the potential for progression through to becoming fully qualified from it.

Mr Elkeles replied that the barrier between the two is having a degree, though the trust will support trainees to overcome this.

The NHS trust boss said: “We were just setting our objectives for next year and one of our objectives is we're going to try is to reduce our vacancies in nursing from 300 to 150 next year.

“We're going to have to do a huge amount of recruitment and retention to do that.

“We're very good at people staying in Epsom and St Helier [hospitals] when they are here, which we're very pleased about because generally it means people enjoy their jobs.”

An integrated performance report sent to the council’s scrutiny committee showed that most of the trust’s safe staffing indicators “remain above threshold”.

But they are “becoming increasingly challenging” – particularly for registered nursing and middle grade rotas.

Staff turnover, vacancy rates and sickness absence all remain above the ceiling threshold, while training coverage is “slightly below target”.

The performance report was discussed at the council’s scrutiny committee meeting on February 6.