Treliske hospital worker's 'blind panic' in search for a home in Cornwall

  • Watch Grace Pascoe's report

Working for the NHS is a role so many appreciate and look up to.

They're caregivers to all, there when we need them for anything our health might throw at us.

But what happens when those vital caregivers can't find a place to live in areas such Cornwall where they are so needed?

They face the prospect of having to move out of an area, which could mean having to leave their jobs. And what then, if there is nowhere to live - who replaces those lost NHS staff?

Scott Jenkin, who works at the Royal Cornwall Hospital, narrowly escaped eviction after their landlord changed their mind about selling the property they rent. Kindly, they had offered the house to the Jenkins family to buy for a discounted price - but it was still out of their reach.

Treliske Hospital

The anaesthetic nurse said he and his family faced 'blind panic' over the Easter period looking for somewhere to live.

He said: "It was bereavement type feelings because we'd got all our stuff we were going to have to move, the usual panicky feelings of where are we going to live, how are we going to move, how much is it going to cost, we were worried about our child's education - he's in his second year of secondary school but would it mean we would have to move him?"

Scott said his search for a home then began taking a toll at work.

"It's already a stressful job," he told ITV News West Country. "I assist the anaesthetist to put people to sleep to have an operation and to wake up pain-free. That's stressful, but this was an added extra stress.

"There were times when it was a case of 'I really can't do this, I'm going to have to take a day off because I'm trying to find somewhere to live' - trying to balance that with going to work and all the other bits. It did make life particularly stressful and particularly unpleasant on occasions."

It is a problem that isn't going away. Last year ITV reported hospital staff in Cornwall were finding it increasingly difficult to get somewhere to live. And as the housing crisis continues, those housing struggles do too.

Similarly, a Cornish paramedic recently posted on Twitter as a last-ditch attempt to find a home locally.

The Royal Cornwall Hospital, or Treliske as it is still known, says it is concerned about the housing difficulties being faced by some of its staff and is developing plans to help to address these.

It said housing pressures in Cornwall have worsened recently, with a lack of availability of accommodation and higher rents and prices, which risks affecting the ability of the trust to recruit staff from outside Cornwall and existing staff are increasingly facing difficulties finding and securing accommodation.

Phil Norgan, property manager at Homequest Lettings and Camel Lettings, used his business to set up a campaign in December to find homes for NHS workers and prioritise them when new ones come on the market.

He says he seen a huge jump in demand since. In February 2022, Phil had a little more than 100 NHS staff registered - there are now 300.

Phil Norgan

Phil said: "The hotspots are Truro, Falmouth, Newquay, St Austell, Helston and Penzance but almost every corner of Cornwall has someone in the NHS needing a long-term rental home."

He added that the problems affecting Cornish housing were manyfold. Touching on a few he said: "Joined-up thinking is the way forward. You have the council, private developers, housing groups, estate agents etc. all running around doing their own thing.

"Bang some heads together, form a working party that has bite and you can convert empty office buildings, empty industrial units and renovate empty houses at a fraction of the cost of building new ones."

He also blamed no fault evictions, adding: "Landlords are capitalising on the change in Government to push through section 21 notices for fear of not getting their property back.

"There are some justifiable section 21s being served for non-payment of rent or antisocial behaviour, but serving a notice because you’re worried the law will change or because you want to do Airbnb is wrong - particularly as we’ve some Airbnb landlords approach us in the past weeks saying they want long-term tenants."

In November 2021 a private staff Facebook group was set up for employees of RCHT where people can share details of accommodation as soon as it becomes available. 

The group had around 150 members back then. There are 711 members of the same staff housing group.

What has the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust said?

Royal Cornwall Hospital Credit: ITV News West Country

The hospital said it is concerned about the housing difficulties being faced by some of its staff, adding: "RCHT is one of Cornwall’s largest employers and it works to provide the best possible healthcare to Cornwall’s residents and visitors.

"It is essential that it can recruit and retain the staff – doctors, nurse and other health and support professionals – that are needed to provide these services.

"Housing pressures in Cornwall have worsened recently with a lack of availability of accommodation and higher rents and prices. These risk affecting the ability of the Trust to recruit staff from outside Cornwall and existing staff are increasingly facing difficulties finding and securing accommodation.

"These issues are of course not unique to the Trust, with many employers and employees across the Duchy facing similar challenges.

"In response, the Trust is working together with Cornwall Foundation Trust to develop a Staff Accommodation Plan to help address these issues and to help staff secure access to suitable and affordable accommodation that enables new recruits to settle successfully in Cornwall and to help other staff facing housing difficulties.

"The Trust is engaging with partners, housing and accommodation providers and others to help develop its plans. The Trust is also keen to work with other organisations facing similar challenges to explore the potential to provide keyworker housing in Cornwall to help support staff who are providing health and other public services across the Duchy.

"These plans will of course take time to implement. For those staff facing immediate issues the Trust is providing what support it can. The Trust has some accommodation provision on its main site at Treliske and runs a Facebook group for staff to offer and find accommodation as well as providing information on housing options and lettings."