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Staff shortages slash operation opportunities at north-east hospitals

Dr Gray's Hospital in Elgin.

Picture by Jason Hedges
Dr Gray's Hospital in Elgin. Picture by Jason Hedges

Staff shortages at NHS Grampian have seen some hospitals’ ability to perform operations slashed by almost one-third in just two years.

Every hospital in the region has experienced a drop in the availability of theatres and a subsequent reduction in the number of operations performed since 2015.

While there were minimal drops at Dr Gray’s in Elgin and Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital between 2015-16 and 2017-18, there were larger decreases elsewhere.

At ARI, the average weekly theatre availability dropped from 790.85 hours to 715.59 – down 10%.

Meanwhile there was a fall of 29%, to 131.65 hours, at Woodend Hospital over the same period.

North East Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald has slammed the figures, saying they demonstrate the “real cost of under-staffing and under-funding” at the health board.

But he also acknowledged that some of the burden could be lifted by the introduction of a Major Trauma Centre in the city this autumn.

He said: “It is not just that operations at ARI and Woodend are being delayed.

“There are less operations overall year on year.

“These figures show how much people in Grampian are affected by under-staffing and under-funding.

“Launching the major trauma centre at Foresterhill this October can help address the recruitment challenge, and it is essential there is no delay.”

Alexander Burnett, Scottish Conservative MSP for Aberdeenshire West, has called for government intervention to help NHS Grampian overcome its staffing shortfall.

He said: “It is the people of the north-east that are suffering – with increased delays and cancellations of planned surgery – and it is not good enough.”

An NHS Grampian spokeswoman said: “The public will be aware of the challenges we have faced around theatre staffing over the last 18 months.

“Safety in our theatres is paramount and these issues mean we can only carry out procedures when and where we have appropriate staffing.

“This has led to fewer procedures taking place.”

She added that the health board’s work to tackle its shortage of employees was ongoing.

“We continue to actively recruit to a range of positions, not just in theatres but also providing pre- and post-operative care,” she added.

“We are also looking at training opportunities for our existing theatre staff to ensure we have a workforce with the right mix of skills.”​

Health Secretary Shona Robison said progress was being made to address staffing issues locally and across Scotland.

She said: “NHS Grampian’s workforce has increased by over 7% under this government to historically high levels, including over 42% more consultants and over 12% more allied health professionals.

“I am pleased that implementation to establish the Scottish Trauma Network is underway and there has already been positive progress over the past year, with Major Trauma Centres in the north and east to be in place in the autumn.

“To help meet the demands the NHS faces, we are putting record investment into our health service and legislating to ensure we have the right staff with the right skills in the right place.

“We are also allocating an additional £50 million to health boards this year on the basis that they use this targeted resource to address the patients waiting the longest in a systematic way.”

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