Health chiefs have warned that a tourist boom has made it difficult to recruit part-time nurses on Skye for shifts – because so many are involved in the holiday business.
Chrisann O’Halloran, senior charge nurse for Skye, said up to 70% of such nursing staff on the island were also involved in catering for visitors which was affecting flexibility on rostering.
There are 85 nursing staff, many of which are part time, working in the area’s hospitals, with another 26 community nursing staff, as well as learning and disabilities and psychiatric nurses.
The problems were particularly acute on trying to arrange shifts when nurses were on days off.
“There were six nurses I phoned in a row who couldn’t do a shift – a lot of them have holiday huts or bed and breakfasts,” she told a public meeting in Portree last week.
Ms O’Halloran added: “We get people coming in and saying ‘I can work Tuesday and Wednesday because I have a holiday cottage on a Saturday.’ The last two years of recruitment has just been blown out of the water with the problems we are facing.
“You can’t dictate to people what they can and can’t do on their days off.”
Catriona MacDonald, the chairwoman of SOS-NHS Skye, said she found the total number of nurses involved in tourism in Skye “astonishing,” adding: “You might have another job, but it should not interfere.”
It comes as NHS Highland warned that the minor injuries unit at Thurso’s Dunbar Hospital could face weekly disruptions unless it fills a key senior nursing vacancy.
The service was closed for two-and-a-half hours on each of Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings when patients were diverted 20 miles to Caithness General Hospital in Wick.
Adverts have been placed to fill the position since February but Mike Flavell, the health authority’s Caithness district manager, said they are now looking at running a social media video appeal.
He said that, with summer holidays starting, the disruption to the service will get worse.
An NHS Highland spokeswoman said the board, like others, is experiencing challenges due to an ageing workforce, with increased numbers of staff retiring, and that clinical leaders are focusing on the redesign of services in these rural areas and training and development.
The spokeswoman said that, in the past year, more of their nursing staff in Skye and Lochalsh have been getting involved in airbnb, which means availability is not as flexible as it was.
The meeting in Portree was called to discuss out-of-hours care, as Portree Hospital and other health facilities on the island have had issues maintaining the service due to staff shortages.
A team led by Sir Lewis Ritchie looked at whether the service for the health board’s area of Skye, Lochalsh and South West Ross was designed and staffed in a way that meets patients needs.
Skye councillor Ronald Macdonald, a renowned economist, said the key issue causing recruitment problems on Skye is nothing to do with the tourist boom and more because of the nature of the contracts being offered to staff there.
He said: “There is little doubt in my mind that if staff were offered appropriate full time and appropriate packages the recruitment crisis could be swiftly resolved.
“To say that this is due to a the tourism boom is a red herring and people need to understand that what is happening in Skye is not a unique experience.”