NHS Highland was under fire last night after it emerged that nurses at a Skye hospital are being forced to cook meals for patients due to a lack of kitchen staff.
There was fury in the north of the island as it was confirmed that nurses have been asked to take over catering duties at Portree Hospital.
Local politicians branded the move “utterly unacceptable” and further evidence of a “broken system”.
The health board said three members of catering staff at Broadford’s Dr MacKinnon Memorial Hospital are currently on sick leave which has meant moving their counterparts from Portree to cover the absences.
And that has led to Portree’s nursing staff having to step in to do the cooking at the hospital on a temporary basis.
The move emerged amid ongoing anger at the closure this week of the hospital’s urgent out-of-hours care service due to a vacancy in the rural support team and other staff shortages.
NHS Highland also suspended new admissions at Portree Hospital because of staff shortages last month.
Health services on Skye have hit the headlines in recent years following a controversial decision to locate a new island hospital in Broadford rather than Portree, which sparked a campaign of opposition.
Last night, local councillor John Gordon said the treatment of staff at Portree Hospital was “extremely concerning”.
He added: “Highly experienced nurses whose priority is to care are having to cook and clean.
“We were given an assurance no changes would happen until a new hospital was built, yet the downgrading of Portree has been done in the most callous manner, which is completely unacceptable.”
Fellow ward councillor Ronald MacDonald said: “I think it just demonstrates how broken the system is and typifies the management culture in NHS Highland.”
Skye MSP Kate Forbes said that the current situation is “utterly unacceptable” and said it is “a credit to the nurses on Skye that they are willing to go the extra mile for their patients.”
Last night, Scottish Conservative MSP Edward Mountain said healthcare provision on Skye and Raasay is “falling short of expectations”.
Bob McGlashan, senior officer at the Royal College of Nursing, said the situation was “not ideal and nursing staff should be focusing on providing clinical care for patients”, but highlighted assurances that it was just a “short term solution”.
A NHS Highland spokesman reiterated the “extreme staffing shortage” between the two hospital sites on Skye, adding: “As a result of this we have had to temporarily move staff to cover MacKinnon catering, as we have more patients there, and due to the few patients we have in Portree the nursing staff have been asked to support this situation.
“The staff have agreed to do the cooking as there are so few patients and it is not full meal preparation, simply re-heating and serving.”