Health bosses are battling to ease a hospital's waiting list crisis.

Eastbourne Hospital Trust, which runs the Eastbourne District General Hospital, is 978 cases behind target, according to latest figures.

The figures for Eastbourne are worse than any other trust in the East Sussex and Brighton and Hove areas. Elsewhere Hastings and Rother NHS Trust is running 288 behind target and Brighton Health Care is 207 ahead of target.

East Sussex Brighton and Hove Health Authority is now in talks with trust managers to find a solution to the crisis.

A health authority spokeswoman said: "We and other health bodies are concerned with the situation. The trust has drawn up an action plan and we are doing what we can to help it achieve its aims and get waiting lists reduced.

"Originally we had thought the trust could be 1,100 waiting list cases above target by the end of March, but we think a more realistic figure is likely to be 700."

In a report, released by the authority's directorate of performance management, the crisis is blamed on the continued closure last November of a 30-bed ward due to staff shortages. If reopened it could reduce the figures by 120 patients a month.

Another factor is delays in surgery because medical patients are having to use

surgical beds. This is a worrying national trend according to the Government, which today revealed that in 1999 57,000 patients in England had

operations cancelled by their hospitals for non-medical reasons on the day of admission.

Last year Eastbourne Hospitals Trust's management was slated in a report by NHS investigators, called in after the deaths of two patients on wards.The trust was criticised for not listening to staff problems, and employing too many agency staff and not enough full time permanent staff.

Chief executive Clive Uren and Chairman John Barkshire have since resigned. An action plan has been drawn up which, with extra funding made

available by the health authority last year, has set up a high dependency unit and is seeking to recruit more nurses.

Alan Randall, Eastbourne Hospitals Trust's new chief executive said: "We are effectively operating without two wards, one is closed and the equivalent of another

surgical ward is taken up by other cases.

"We will not meet our targets by the end of this financial year, but if we can get the figure down to 700 that will be a step in the right direction."

"In the long term we will get these lists down. Fourteen new nurses from the Philippines will be joining us in April and we are interviewing for more at the moment. Once this happens we can think about reopening the ward that has been closed."

Other action being taken by the hospital is increasing day surgery treatment and transferring some cases to Eastbourne private hospital, The Esperance.

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