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Dr Gray’s had no duty emergency consultant on five nights in April

Dr Gray's Hospital in Elgin.

A north-east hospital was left without an emergency medical consultant on five nights in the space of one month, it has been revealed.

There was no duty consultant available at Dr Gray’s Hospital in Elgin for the on call night shift on April 1, 4, 5, 22 and 23, a freedom of information request has uncovered.

Emergency medical consultants provide senior leadership in emergency departments in hospitals and ensure safe processes are in place for patients.

Moray MP Douglas Ross described the findings as “deeply concerning”, as the hospital continues to grapple with an ongoing staffing crisis.

The response to the freedom of information request detailed five occasions in the last five years where no duty consultant was available, even in the form of locum staff.

The five occasions all occurred within weeks of each other in April.

Moray MP Douglas Ross.

There has never been a night where there has not been a consultant on call for the emergency department in Aberdeen Royal Infirmary or Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital.

NHS Grampian said the reason for the gaps was the “implementation of amended terms and conditions of service for the majority of the emergency medicine consultants”.

This resulted in “reduced availability to cover these shifts” and while locum cover was sought it was “not available as an alternative solution”.

There was “no documented actual impact on patient safety” on these dates, the FOI states.

Mr Ross said: “Our NHS is in crisis on the SNP’s watch and this lack of night time cover will understandably make patients alarmed about what will happen if they have to turn up requiring emergency care at Dr Gray’s.

“While thankfully this didn’t cause any issues with patient safety on these occasions, this cannot become a trend at Dr Gray’s.”

‘We accept more needs to be done’

Dr Gray’s Hospital has long been plagued by recruitment problems, which has impacted on its ability to provide maternity services.

A staffing crisis in summer 2018 led the hospital’s maternity unit to be “temporarily downgraded” from consultant-led to midwife-led. 

This has forced most women in the region to travel 65-miles away to give birth in Aberdeen – with at least two giving birth on the side of the road. 

Alasdair Pattinson, Dr Gray’s Hospital general manager for NHS Grampian, said: “We accept more needs to be done to address the recruitment and retention of staff at Dr Gray’s Hospital.

“This has been an ongoing challenge in this part of the country and will be a main feature of a new Strategic Plan for the hospital which are beginning to engage with staff and the wider public on.

We accept more needs to be done to address the recruitment and retention of staff at Dr Gray’s Hospital.”

Alasdair Pattinson, Dr Gray’s Hospital general manager

“We are also engaging with other local partners and businesses given the shared challenge they too experience.

“Patient safety is always our primary focus, ensuring those with the most complex needs are where they need to be to receive the right level of care. We have a highly committed team at Dr Gray’s and are grateful for all they continue to achieve in testing circumstances.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Patient safety is paramount and we are working to support boards experiencing difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff.

“Across NHS Scotland staffing is at a record high level and has increased for 10 consecutive years and we’re determined to go further, working with boards to enhance NHS workforce levels, fill posts and create new roles.

“The £1 billion NHS Recovery Plan  introduced a range of direct workforce investments and new measures to support health boards’ capacity for both domestic and international recruitment.”

Moray maternity fears: ‘There could be a death of a mother or a baby – or both’

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