SURGICAL services at Poole Hospital “did not have sufficient levels of nurses or junior doctors,” the Care Quality Commission (CQC) found during its latest inspection.

The CQC visited Poole Hospital NHS Foundation Trust during October and November, last year, to check quality of medical care, surgery, maternity and end of life care. Overall the hospital was rated as Good, and when it came to how well the hospital cared for patients, inspectors awarded it the highest rating Outstanding.

However, inspectors voiced some concerns about surgery services, which were rated as Requires Improvement.

Set against the backdrop of a nationwide NHS staffing shortfall, the CQC report, published yesterday, stated: “The service (surgery) did not have sufficient levels of nurses or junior doctors. There was consequently a high degree of agency staff being used.”

Poole Hospital director of nursing Patricia Reid, who stressed “safe staffing and the provision of the best care possible are our absolute priorities” added that “through prudent use of agency nursing staff working alongside our dedicated permanent nursing staff, we are able to ensure we have the appropriate number of registered nurses.”

But the CQC report also highlighted that infection risk was not always controlled well and that emergency equipment safety checks were not always carried out.

“Patient records were not always clear, including around nutrition and hydration and mental health assessments,” stated the report. “Services were not being delivered in line with targets so some patients were having to wait too long.”

Campaigners have long highlighted a ‘critical NHS staffing crisis’ across the country.

In the run up to December’s general election a study by the NHS Confederation revealed nine out of ten hospital bosses in England feared understaffing across the NHS had become severe enough that patient’s health could be damaged.

At that time there were more than 100,000 clinical staff vacancies, including 43,000 nurses.

Many trusts are braced for what could be one of the NHS’s toughest winters on record.

Although highlighted as needing improvement overall, the latest CQC report into Poole Hospital stressed patients were “protected from abuse” and surgical services staff were praised.

“Staff provided good care and treatment and were competent and skilled,” found the inspectors. “Patients were treated with compassion and kindness, respecting their privacy and dignity. Staff felt respected, supported and valued.”

CQC deputy chief inspector of hospitals for the south, Dr Nigel Acheson, congratulated the trust for working to embed the improvements the commission requested at its last inspection.

Before acknowledging some improvements were needed in some areas, he said: “I want to congratulate them for this work. It has helped them remain Good overall and to receive a rating of Outstanding for caring.”

Debbie Fleming, joint chief executive of Poole Hospital and The Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals, also praised hospital staff.

A Poole Hospital spokesman said: “Inspectors put forward a number of recommendations for the trust to act on, including strengthening governance, improving mandatory training rates, increasing appraisals for staff, and better record-keeping.

"The trust was encouraged to continue its ongoing programme of recruitment activity to help address shortfalls, whilst recognising the national recruitment difficulties the NHS faces.”

Meanwhile, Ms Reid said: “As inspectors noted patients were ‘protected from harm’ from issues including staffing.

We recognise that waiting times for routine surgery are longer than we would wish and we understand this can be upsetting for patients and families.

"A combination of factors is contributing to this increase, including the growing demand for health services and demographic changes in the region.

"Alongside the need for the provision of sustainable services, we are working with partners to deliver the transformation of health and social care services across the Dorset system.”