A north-east mum fears children, like her nine-year-old son, could be left with permanent health problems because of staffing shortages.
NHS Grampian – and health boards across the country – have been struggling with recruiting children’s nurses, and a Covid-induced backlog of cases.
This means some procedures requiring general anaesthetic are being put on hold.
Susan Duncan’s son James has been told it could be years before he gets the eye surgery he needs on the NHS.
By that point, the Tarves youngster could be stereoblind – meaning he’ll have lost the ability to see in 3D.
Condition already ‘beyond crisis point’
James’s parents noticed he’d started squinting, and took him to the optician to get glasses.
But his condition deteriorated after he caught Covid, and the youngster was referred to Aberdeen’s eye clinic.
He was seen by a consultant last month, who flagged a hypermetrophic refractive error – a type of long-sightedness – and esotropia, where one eye is misaligned.
Without treatment, this could leave his eyes unable to properly work in tandem, affecting things like depth perception and spatial awareness.
And the family were told the staffing situation is already “beyond crisis point” across many of Grampian’s children’s departments.
Susan explained: “He said he wanted to do the surgery – and he’d have done it that day if he could.
“If James only needed a local anaesthetic they could have done it, but he needs a general and there aren’t children’s nurses available because the backlog is so huge.
“Before Covid, he said he’d have been in within three weeks maximum, but now we’re talking years.”
Situation is ‘scandalous’
Susan has described the situation as “horrific, scandalous and sad”.
“I really feel sorry for the consultants,” she said. “They’re well-respected and it’s nothing to do with them.
“They have the expertise and the skill but the lack of children’s nurses means they can’t do the procedures.
“In the meantime, James, and a whole load of other children like him, will lose his 3D vision [or face similar issues].”
NHS Grampian is hopeful that a solution will be in place within the next few weeks.
But The Duncans are already looking at private healthcare options to get James the help he needs as soon as possible.
‘It’s affecting his whole life’
“If they’re saying years on the NHS, James is in primary five at the moment, so it could be the end of primary school before he gets help,” Susan said.
“It’s affecting his whole life, his whole development.
“School know the situation and aren’t putting pressure on him, but it is difficult for him.
“There was one times he was sent home, and another he was put into another classroom to get a break.”
She added: “We work hard, pay our taxes and national insurance contributions and we are not being given the service we deserve and expect.
“James knows we’re looking after him and making sure he gets what he needs.
“But there will other people in situations where they can’t do this.”
Plans in place to ease staffing shortage
NHS Grampian said the shortage of children’s nurses is UK-wide, and not just limited to the north-east.
A spokeswoman said the health board remains “fully committed” to delivering high-quality and timely care for children and young people.
She added: “Please rest assured, an additional theatre team is being put in place to assist Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital.
“The plan is to have them in place by next month.”