Patient support at Croydon University Hospital is “sometimes lacking” with nurses taking “too long” to respond to elderly patients basic needs, a patient group has warned.

A Healthwatch Croydon analysis of nursing at the hospital found older people’s wards receive a notable volume of negativity, which the group attributes to a nursing shortage at the hospital.

The analysis, based on the hospital’s patient advice liaison service (PALS) and complaints, found that 74 per cent of comments were negative and indicated a “lack of support, carer involvement, advice, information and privacy”.

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Some 258 nursing posts at the trust were left unfilled in July 2015, a vacancy rate of 20 per cent, according to figures obtained by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).

Croydon Health Services NHS Trust has recruited 96 nurses since January this year after it was revealed a fifth of nursing jobs at the hospital were not filled last year.

The trust has run a nurses’ recruitment drive since April last, entitled ‘Could you be a Croydon nurses’, which has seen 183 newly qualified nurses join the hospital.

But Healthwatch Croydon said the feedback from patients and carers “suggest a clear need for more nurses at the hospital”.

The group said in a statement: “While acknowledging that the wards have very high friends and family test satisfaction rates Healthwatch Croydon has received feedback to suggest that support is sometimes lacking, particularly on the older people’s wards, with nurses taking too long to respond to call buzzers and to see to patients' basic needs, such as washing and dressing.

“Families and carers have also said that communication with staff can be difficult at times.”

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The group regularly runs patients surveys to assess how health services are run and to deliver feedback to providers on how to improve practice.

Gary Hickey, acting chair of Healthwatch Croydon said: “We do not know whether these patient experiences are because of staffing levels, training, leadership, or other reasons, but we do know that additional nurses should go some way to improving the quality of service for all.

“We support the commitment and focus of Croydon Health Services NHS Trust to find good nurses to support their care for patients. Furthermore, we look forward to providing the Trust with relevant patient and carer experience data to support further recruitment of staff in the future.”

Michael Fanning, director of nursing, midwifery and allied health professionals at Croydon Health Services NHS Trust said recruitment is a “constant challenge” but that “nine out of ten” patients are happy with the care they receive.

He said: “Like many trusts recruitment is constant challenge. This is not unique to Croydon, but is particularly difficult in London where there is limited availability of trained doctors and nurses.

“We are constantly looking at new ways in which we can encourage more nurses to choose Croydon. This is helped by new services like the Edgecombe Unit which is giving Croydon residents faster access to medical treatment, without having to wait in A&E.”

Mr Fanning said the trust has discussed ways to improve its service with Healthwatch, adding: “Nine out of ten patients said they were happy with our care and, in their last inspection, the Care Quality Commission said our staff were “gentle, kind and caring.” However, we know from speaking to our patients and their carers that we can always do more.”