Edinburgh hospital ‘turning patients away due to lack of beds’

Exterior View of the  Western General Hospital, Edinburgh.  Picture: Ian Rutherford
Exterior View of the Western General Hospital, Edinburgh. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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Brain surgeons at a major hospital are suffering “plummeting morale” from having to turn patients away due to a lack of beds, MSPs have heard.

Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton told Holyrood’s Health and Sport Committee that a neurologist at the Western General in Edinburgh contacted him to raise concerns about cancelled operations.

Dr Patrick Statham told the MSP that having to cancel operations because there are not enough beds for patients is hitting morale.

Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “He was very concerned that he felt that the levels of cancellations in his ward due to the unavailability of beds because of the lack of ring-fencing in the neurology department was getting to the stage where his morale and the morale of his fellow surgeons was really plummeting because they kept having to turn people away.”

He said Dr Statham told him St Thomas’ Hospital in London brought in management consultants KPMG to deal with the same problem in its neurology department.

Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “They came up with the very simple idea that we ring-fence the beds for neurosurgery. It didn’t really impact on the rest of the hospital but it meant that people got seen for elective surgery.”

He told MSPs the issue is a “systemic problem” which would undoubtedly lead to complaints to watchdog the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman.

But Ombudsman director Niki Maclean, who was giving evidence to the committee, said the complaints it deals with are not about systemic issues.

She said: “We don’t see a high volume of complaints about neurology.”

Mr Cole-Hamilton told the Ombudsman, Jim Martin, that he and fellow MSPs have to raise health complaints from constituents on the floor of Parliament to “embarrass minsters and the health minister to get action”.

He said: “That action is actually then taken the next day. I don’t think that’s a particular way to run a health service but it works at the moment for us.”

Mr Martin warned against the “naming and shaming” of health boards.

He said: “The one thing that my office is about is naming and learning, not naming and shaming.

“I think one of the barriers to learning in the health service in Scotland is the fear that people will be named and shamed and the reputational damage that comes with publicity around ‘failure’.

“What I would hope the Parliament would move to, because I think we are a far more mature Parliament in many ways than our colleagues down south, is understanding that yes it’s good to highlight when things have gone wrong, but the most important thing is to get the learning from that and ensure things don’t happen again.

“The vast majority of people that come to my office, the first thing they say is ‘I want to understand what happened here and I want to make sure it doesn’t happen to anybody else ever again’.

“Naming and shaming does not enhance learning.”

Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “It gets our guys out of hospital though, sometimes.”