NHS Grampian has been pressed to ensure Moray’s biggest hospital is ready to cope with looming winter pressures.
Dr Gray’s in Elgin has long faced recruitment issues surrounding its maternity services, which culminated in the unit being downgraded due to a staffing crisis in summer 2018.
Meanwhile, the Covid-19 pandemic has led to capacity at the unit being reduced, with 32 beds, trolley or chair spaces removed to create more space for patients and staff – resulting in a 17% drop in patient capacity.
Now Conservatives councillors have asked health bosses for assurances the hospital is prepared to cope with the annual pressures the winter months bring.
Group leader Tim Eagle said: “Dr Gray’s continues to be a regular concern raised through constituent letters and e-mails and recently that has increased again.
“Moray residents are clear that Dr Gray’s is a vital part of our local healthcare system but there continue to be nagging concerns over the maternity unit and staffing in elderly care ,as well as the hospital capacity.
“What is also clear, however, is that following a very difficult period it is vital we ensure staff are fully supported as we continue to head into the winter months.
“I have friends who work in the NHS and I know the pressures they have been under.”
Conservative councillors are due to hold talks with management in the coming days about the current situation at the hospital.
NHS Grampian has stressed the capacity reduction, which has affected other units across the country, is an essential measure to reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19.
A project to refurbish three labour suites and a birthing pool has also begun – but warnings have been issued long-term maternity improvements will take longer to deliver.
And concerns have persisted at the hospital amidst reports some staff have resorted to taking rests in their cars due to reduced capacity in the canteen and other break rooms.
Forres councillor Claire Feaver said: “Staff wellbeing has been raised in a number of places recently.
“We all must recognise the wonderful care and dedication NHS staff give.
“It is these staff who are the true NHS. They have braved Covid-19 for us and we must now ensure they are fully supported.”
Mr Eagle added: “We are grateful for the work staff are doing but we also want to be assured there remains a strong commitment to the delivery of services at Dr Gray’s, including a strong push on attracting more staff as well as ensuring that staff are being well looked after and given the time they need to rest.”
A spokesman for NHS Grampian said: “We are under no illusion that this winter will be very challenging, and are aware of the associated risks.
“However, recognising that every winter brings with it increasing demands on health and care services, our hospitals are required to develop bed surge plans that are designed to enable the use of available beds to be flexible and responsive to the peaks and troughs of activity.
“This, coupled with our focus on ‘home first’, which is helping us shift away from avoidable hospitalisation and reducing delayed transitions of care, will be key to maintaining hospital flow and ensuring the right care in the right place.”