A NEW hospital has been hit by major staff shortages prompting managers to draft in newly qualified nurses early.

A spike in sickness absence and a surge in the number of patients needing care and treatment has placed unprecedented pressure on Forth Valley Royal Hospital, in Larbert.

One nurse, who asked not to be named, described two staff nurses trying to look after a ward of more than 30 patients and fearing for the safety of the most frail as they rushed between beds.

She said: "It is not safe. We cannot get round our patients at night to give them treatments doctors have prescribed. Patients are falling out of bed. Relatives complain we are not delivering the care they expect, but we genuinely can't because we do not have the time."

Forth Valley Royal, which was officially opened by the Queen in July last year, cost £300 million to build and is said to be one of the most modern and well-equipped hospitals in Europe.

Last week NHS Forth Valley announced up to four frontline staff in the emergency department had fallen ill with whooping cough.

Vaccines were offered to 150 personnel to try to prevent the illness from spreading.

However, while it is understood other staff have had to take time off while a diagnosis of whooping cough was ruled out, the health board say this illness is not the only problem.

In a statement the board said: "Over the past few months we have seen higher levels of sickness absence among our nursing staff due to a number of reasons.

"We have also seen an increased number of patients requiring treatment at Forth Valley Royal Hospital."

The board said the vast majority of nursing shifts had been covered by bank nurses – the NHS's own pool of reserve staff.

Now the board is trying to bring in 50 newly registered nurses earlier than planned to help staff the frontline.

It said: "Fifty interns were due to begin working in Forth Valley next January under a national NHS scheme, but we are hoping to bring the start time forward to later this year.

"This would significantly increase nursing capacity and resources across the organisation."

Philip Coghill, professional officer for the Royal College of Nursing in Forth Valley, said: "We are aware Forth Valley Royal Hospital has been experiencing some pressures in terms of demand.

"The dependency of patients coming through has been quite high in recent times.

"We are also aware through talking to management and hearing from our members that there has been a recent increase in the level of short-term staff sickness.

"We have had a conversation with managers to ascertain what might be causing that.

"Staff absence and high demand on nursing care is bound to create pressure on frontline nurses and we would be concerned about that."

Mr Coghill said it had taken time for the new hospital to bed in and added: "It is important the flow of patients through the hospital and discharge from hospital is managed well. Forth Valley has agreed there are patient flow issues they continue to work on."