A Worksop hospital which is struggling to recruit paediatric nurses is having to ferry children to another hospital, at a cost of £14,000 a month.
For more than two years, Bassetlaw hospital has had to close its paediatric unit from 7pm until 8am, seven days a week.
Despite seven recruitment drives last year, the hospital still cannot find enough staff to be able to run the unit safely, so has been forced to close it overnight.
It has since spent £330,000 with a private ambulance company to have an ambulance on standby, ferrying severely ill children to hospital in Doncaster for treatment.
One ambulance is on standby, but others can be called upon if necessary.
It takes 35 minutes to drive between the two hospitals, or on public transport the trip takes around an hour and 20 minutes.
An average of 11 children per week have been sent to hospital in Doncaster since the closure, where there is a 24 hour paediatric ward.
Local Labour councillors have said more needs to be done nationally to address the shortage of paediatric nurses.
Coun Kevin Greaves, who represents Worksop South on Nottinghamshire County Council, said: “There are questions that need answering around the long term and ongoing failure to recruit the appropriate children’s ward nursing staff.
“I believe that the lack of bursary available for potential trainee nurses is, in part responsible for this failure.
“Aside from this it makes no financial sense for Bassetlaw hospital trust to pay £14,000 a month for an ambulance to be on standby to facilitate transfers of children overnight.
“At this stage that figure is in excess of £330,000 which could have been used to ensure that sufficient nursing staff were available at the hospital overnight.
“Instead a vast majority of this cost goes towards overnight accommodation for ambulance personnel at the local Travelodge.
“Going forward, I’d like to see other options considered until such time that Bassetlaw Children’s Unit is fully open.
“I’d like to see a rota of paediatric nursing staff between Doncaster Hospital and Bassetlaw devised to address the shortage of nursing staff available to Bassetlaw Hospital.
“Alongside this, there needs to be an ideological approach to ensuring that trainee nurses are financially supported, ideally through the reintroduction of the bursary which is still available to those following this route in Wales and Scotland.”
Conservative councillor Keith Girling, chairman of the health scrutiny committee at the county council, said the unit was held in high regard, but said the money on the ambulances should be better spent.
“I sympathise with difficulties the hospitals trust is having with regards to nurse recruitment for Bassetlaw Children’s ward,” he said.
“However, this is an extremely well-valued facility and I’d like to see them doing more to increase staffing.
“It’s natural that staff are attracted to work at other centres of excellence nearby, but I believe more could be done to rotate staff around hospitals as part of their development or greater incentives provided to staff to work at Bassetlaw, if that’s what is required.
“I’m sure, like me, Bassetlaw children and families would much rather see money spent on incentivising nursing positions at their local hospital than they would on the astronomical transport costs to ferry children between Worksop and Doncaster.”
Moira Hardy, the director of nursing, midwifery and allied health professionals at the trust which runs Bassetlaw and Doncaster hospitals, said: “Throughout 2018, we undertook seven separate recruitment exercises to appoint registered paediatric nurses to Bassetlaw Hospital’s Children’s Assessment Unit.
“While we did manage to recruit a small number of new team members, due to staff leaving for retirements and opportunities elsewhere, there is still a vacancy in the number of funded nursing posts for the current model of care.
“There is a national shortage of registered paediatric nurses and as such we will continue to work with our partners, such as the South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw Integrated Care System to identify possible solutions for issues such as recruitment.
“In the meantime, trained paediatric medical staff are available 24 hours a day to support and maintain a safe emergency department and maternity service at Bassetlaw Hospital.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “Record numbers of dedicated NHS staff work tirelessly to make sure patients get excellent, safe care.
“We are supporting them by training 25 per cent more doctors, nurses and midwives, giving a significant pay rise to over a million staff, and listening to the issues that matter to them.”