RECRUITING staff is the biggest challenge the hospital trust says it faces – as it prepares for the busy winter period.

Acute trust chief executive Michelle McKay said staffing remained a “constant challenge” as she outlined what the trust had done to ease the winter crisis and how it will prepare for this winter.

Mrs McKay said overall discharges slowed by 15 per cent across the trust in February 2018 when compared with a year earlier. The rate of discharges did not keep pace with admissions, which put additional pressures on beds during the crucial winter months.

Mrs McKay said there would be a continued focus to ensure the public knows which service to use and where to get treatment appropriately.

She said the message that the public should only be going to A&E when absolutely necessary needed to continue to be made.

The trust would also focus on measures to stifle demand in the run up to winter – including flu jabs and falls prevention.

Mrs McKay said more than 20 per cent of patients leaving A&E left with guidance only.

She was speaking at Worcestershire county council’s health and overview scrutiny committee today.

The committee questioned whether the county’s hospitals could meet the increased demand - especially with the number of new homes being built across Worcestershire.

Cllr Frances Smith said she was “very, very concerned” that the trust had not thought about the number of homes being built across the county.

Cllr Smith said: “I don’t think you make enough use of community hospitals, which is a great shame.

“You talk about ‘stranded patients’ - [patients who have spent longer than seven days in hospital] – which could be sorted by using community hospitals.”

Cllr Fran Oborski said she was also “worried” the trust had not planned for population increases in Worcestershire – spurred by various plans for thousands of new homes.

Cllr Oborski said: “You should be planning what you are going to do because as soon as the builders get planning permission, they will be throwing the houses up.”

Mari Gay, interim chief operating officer for the three Worcestershire CCGs, said they would be looking at population growth in the county and planning appropriately for it.

Mrs McKay said the biggest challenge in the run up to winter would still be workforce even if the hospital did have more beds.