NHS worker driven to panic attacks over housing worries in Cornwall

Watch Marina Jenkins' report on NHS workers struggling to find housing

An NHS worker from Cornwall has told ITV News the stress of finding a rental property has given him panic attacks.

Hospital workers in the county are struggling to find places to live adding pressure to an already overwhelmed health system.

One of these people is Graham Milne, who like many others, has battled to find a home in Cornwall.

His current landlord is selling so he needs to move out by the end of the year. But he says searching for a place, alongside working a busy job at Treliske Hospital, has been extremely stressful. 

Graham needs to secure a new place to live by 31 December. Credit: ITV West Country

Graham, who is a clinical imaging assistant at the Royal Cornwall Hospital, said: "I've been having panic attacks, tightness in my chest, shaky hands, not eating, not sleeping.

"It's been an absolute dreadful ride, it really has."

Graham is worried about his health and the future of his son, who is 15 and preparing for his GCSEs. He quickly realised he was one of hundreds trying to find an affordable private rental. 

"I found a few possible places to look at but there was a queue of 70 plus people at every property we looked at," he said.

"The issue is there's been a decrease in properties available to rent. The ones that are available are extremely expensive and prohibitively so for people in my position working at Treliske, they're unaffordable even for a one-bed flat."

Aerial view of Truro, Cornwall's only city

Cornwall Council says it is working to address the housing pressures, and is buying and refurbishing disused properties. But that takes time and a solution is needed now. 

They added there is a lack of suitable places on the market and said the authority is urgently working on a number of schemes to ease the problem.

Back in Falmouth, Graham's search was getting nowhere. So he posted his plight on social media and reached 41,000 people. Graham's now got a holding deposit on a place in Falmouth. 

Graham has said the hospital has been very supportive with his experience, but it's 'a catch 22' situation.

The Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust says it needs to recruit people from outside of Cornwall and overseas, but when it does, there are very few affordable places for them to live.

What has the hospital said?

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Royal Cornwall Hospital said: "Increasingly one of the biggest challenges for us when we recruit people from outside of Cornwall, or from overseas, is for them to find affordable homes to rent or to buy. 

"We are working with our NHS partners and Cornwall Council to find ways to help our key workers and have actively supported local planning applications where developers are aiming to provide key worker or affordable housing.

The Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro. Credit: ITV News West Country

"A private staff Facebook group has also been set up for existing employees and those with offers of employment, where people can share details of accommodation as soon as it becomes available. The group has around 150 members and is successfully helping people up with rooms and homes to rent.

"The greatest need is for long-term lets, with good transport links to our hospitals, including homes for families and sharers. 

"We would love to hear from landlords and letting agents with accommodation to offer and have set up an online form where they can send details for us to post on our staff Facebook page."

What has the council said?

Housing and planning portfolio holder for Cornwall Council Olly Monk called for legislation changes so the council can control how many holiday lets there are in certain areas.

Cornwall Councillor Olly Monk Credit: ITV West Country

He said he wants to see the ability to make all properties start off as a 'primary residence'.

"And any deviation from that - if you want to turn it into a holiday let or to Airbnb - then you need to apply through planning to be able to do that. That way, the council can get a much better understanding of how many properties are available and set some sort of a quota in different areas. To allow or not allow the conversion of properties."

Cllr Monk said he believes modular units on hospital grounds where there is spare space could be a solution.

The Trust said it is open to exploring ideas like this with the council, but it seems that wherever you look in Cornwall at the moment - from the hospital, to education and hospitality staff - more housing stock is crucial for these vital sectors to thrive. 

MP for Truro and Falmouth Cherilyn Mackrory told ITV News she is "absolutely aware" the housing crisis in Cornwall is affecting families and key workers.

"The pandemic has put unprecedented pressures on the UK health and social care workforce and the Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust rely on recruiting a significant number of out of county and overseas clinical staff, for example nursing and medical staff," she said.

She said "one of the biggest challenges" in recruiting people from outside of Cornwall is finding them accommodation and said the hospital is working with the council and the CCG to source further accommodation.

"Cornwall Council are showing real leadership when it comes to tackling the housing crisis in Cornwall and they have my full support," she added.

"I will continue to work with them to ensure everyone has access to a home.”