A north psychiatric ward has been told to boost its staffing levels and offer a better range of treatments and activities for patients.
The Mental Welfare Commission For Scotland (MWC) has released its findings following a visit to the Willows Ward at New Craigs Hospital in Inverness.
Concerns had been raised regarding staffing, activity provision and the general environment of the facility, which has beds for six adults with learning difficulties.
While the MWC said patients and relatives were, “in general,” positive about the ward, it has made five recommendations to NHS Highland on how it can be improved.
It said a “pressing” matter was to resolve staffing difficulties, as the senior charge nurse role had been vacant for several years.
The MWC report said: “There is a heavy reliance on ward staff doing overtime and bank staff being employed to fill the gaps in the rota.”
The watchdog found there was a “lack” of occupational therapy, psychology and social work services on the ward, and told managers to ensure a better breadth of options.
It called for better discharge planning, as some people ready to leave were delayed because legal papers had not been completed ahead of time, and improvements to how care plans are reviewed.
Plans to provide activities for patients ready for discharge were praised, but concern was raised that others were being left out.
“Activity planners were not available for all patients and, where they were, there was a lack of information about what was offered and the outcome of this,” the report said.
“We were concerned that there appeared to be a reliance on the nursing team to meet the activity aspects of patient’s needs.”
Additionally, the MWC recommended the ward is overhauled to reduce its “dated and tired” appearance.
It acknowledged the facility was not purpose-built for the patient group, and that some personalised items had been removed to minimise infection risks amid the pandemic.
But it said issues had been raised that not all patients have access to an en-suite bathroom and, on days when community staff are visiting, there is a lack of “usable and comfortable communal space”.
The watchdog’s report said: “Some of the communal areas were stark and uninviting, with minimal soft furnishings and accessories that would improve the environment.”
And while it recognised the ward garden could offer therapeutic benefits, it was deemed “sparse and poorly maintained”, with “little thought given to making it a pleasant or interesting place to be.”
An NHS Highland spokeswoman said they were pleased with the positive feedback in the report.
She added: “We acknowledge that the report has highlighted areas for improvement including senior staffing shortfalls within the area and environmental issues with the ward.
“We have very recently increased senior management support and are currently actively recruiting additional team members.
“It has previously been very difficult to recruit and therefore we have now broadened our scope to ensure nurses from a range of different backgrounds are eligible to apply.
“We are also working as a team with colleagues across the board to see how we can update Willow ward and make the environment more welcoming for our patients and their relatives.”