STRAINED relations between patients, relatives and NHS staff have led to what is thought to be the first visiting rights “suspension” in the Lothians.
George Simpson, whose mother, Morag, is an inpatient in Ferryfield House, has been embroiled in a row with nursing staff about the 85-year-old’s care.
When warnings failed, hospital chiefs imposed the two-week ban saying he was upsetting staff to the point they are “unable to carry out their jobs without fear or intimidation”.
The ban highlights the growing challenge faced by health boards to balance patient care, access and staff safety on decreased budgets and under heightened care demands.
The general problem has become so pronounced that security guards have been brought in at community hospitals to help deal with difficult patients or visitors.
Assaults on NHS Lothian staff have increased sevenfold in recent years, with reported incidents up from 274 to 1888 between 2009 and 2011.
But Mr Simpson, who spoke out after his mother was assaulted by another dementia patient as she lay in her hospital bed last year, denies he has been aggressive.
Instead, he insists he is being victimised for complaining about the standard of care at the community hospital in Pilton Drive.
He said: “What they are trying to do is discredit me so they can cover up their own shortcomings. It’s absolutely disgusting.
“I am frantic with worry about my mother. She’s not much longer for this planet and I’m having to put up with this garbage. I go up and feed her and she doesn’t eat when I’m not there as the staff don’t have the time to sit with her.
“She’s down to six stone and doesn’t have weight to lose.”
In the letter, director of operations Tim Montgomery said he was prepared to withdraw visiting rights from any relative who is not acting appropriately towards staff and that the drastic action was a final resort.
It noted there had been six recorded incidents since May 2013 when staff felt his actions had been aggressive, including one a fortnight ago in which a nurse reported he “deliberately veered towards her in the corridor in a threatening manner”.
While overall sickness rates have fallen at NHS Lothian in the past five years, the amount of time off taken because of mental health issues, such as stress and anxiety, has almost doubled, to the point where they account for almost a quarter of days off.
Mr Montgomery wrote: “While I do understand that you want to ensure that your mother is cared for safely and appropriately and, following the assault on her last year, are very anxious about her wellbeing, I believe that our staff are compromised in their care for your mother whilst you exhibit these aggressive behaviours and these need to stop.”
He ordered the exclusion until May 29. It is understood a security guard has been appointed at the hospital since the troubles started.
Margaret Watt, chair of Scotland Patients Association, said it was the first exclusion case she had heard of in Edinburgh.
She said: “I understand the stresses staff are under and naturally relatives of people in care are going to be anxious as well. When it’s a relative’s word against staff I think the best thing all round would be to have a chaperone so there is someone there to corroborate things.”
Mr Montgomery told the Evening News: “We cannot tolerate any form of aggression or intimidation towards staff and it is regrettable that after all other attempts have failed that we have had to take this very unusual step.”