A Speyside hospital will close for overnight stays later this month due to a staffing crisis that has resulted in exhausted staff working through breaks and extra hours to cover gaps.
Recruitment issues have caused NHS employees to be pushed to the limits at both the Fleming Hospital in Aberlour and the Stephen Hospital in Dufftown in recent months.
Health and Social Care Moray has announced changes to cope with the shortages with overnight stays being restricted to Dufftown and outpatient services being concentrated in Aberlour.
Management have stressed that the change has been implemented as a temporary measure after the situation grew more urgent in recent weeks.
Head of service, Sean Coady, explained the organisation, which is partnership between NHS Grampian and Moray Council, had been aware of issues for some time with different avenues explored with “little success”.
Issues have also been reported in putting together care arrangements for people to return home amid hopes the new arrangement will held to bridge gaps.
Mr Coady said: “We recognise transport may be an issue for some people and we will seek to identify where this is a problem, working with our partners to identify a supportive solution.
“Patient safety and staff wellbeing must be paramount and any decisions to change how we deliver services will always be considered within these in mind.
“These decisions are not taken lightly and we acknowledge the need to work through this with the community to ensure that the longer term sustainability of services in Speyside are fit for the future and of the highest standard.”
Staffing shortages previously caused the Leanchoil Hospital in Forres to close temporarily in September last year before its permanent shutdown was confirmed two months later.
Health and Social Care Moray has said it is reviewing all cottage hospitals across the region to make best use of resources while trying to provide care at home where possible.
It is understood that the latest temporary changes will take effect on November 18.
Moray MSP Richard Lochhead said: “Our community hospitals in Dufftown and Aberlour are treasured by local residents and play a vital role in local, accessible healthcare so that particularly elderly patients are not admitted to hospitals far from home.
“This latest development is further evidence of the mounting pressures facing our more rural hospitals with recruitment issues affecting both Dr Grays’s and our community hospitals.”
Speyside Glenlivet councillor Derek Ross said: “I’m shocked they’re doing this. We need to protect our rural communities, not make them less attractive by closing services.
“There should be more support from the Scottish Government for facilities like this. You can’t use care homes for this, they aren’t staffed to the same level or with the right expertise.”