ALEX SALMOND faced questions in Parliament about the pressures on NHS Lothian staff as the health board categorically denied claims that members of its medical staff have worked for 90 days without a day off.
The health board’s former employee director and vice-chairman, Eddie Egan, had said he believed that some surgeons, anaesthetists and theatre nurses had been working up to 72 hours a week for months on end, in a drive to cut waiting times.
However, following an investigation, the health board said it could “totally refute” the allegation that any employee had worked for seven days a week for anything approaching three months, stating the claim was “not true”.
But Mr Egan said he retained concerns about the length of time some staff members were working, particularly when working in both the public and private sectors, while the issue of staffing in hospitals was also raised at Holyrood with Alex Salmond yesterday.
MSP and Labour health spokesperson Jackie Baillie said that despite NHS Lothian’s rebuttal of the allegations, she still believed health board staff had come under increasing pressure due to cuts in nursing posts over recent years.
Speaking after she posed her question to Mr Salmond, Ms Baillie said: “Had NHS Lothian not cut the number of nurses they would be better able to cope with the demands made of them.
“I understand NHS Lothian needs to get back on track, but to put staff under pressure, particularly with the implications for patient care, is not the way to do it.
“It’s a bizarre situation that they are now having to recruit staff having shown nurses the door. It seems a nonsense.”
NHS Lothian has made progress in recent months in its battle to cut the number of patients who are waiting for more than 12 weeks for treatment.
Its own staff have been offered extra shifts, patients have been sent for operations in private hospitals while private staff have been sourced to run clinics in NHS Lothian hospitals, through the use of the company Medinet. Mr Egan said he remains concerned that the cumulative hours of medical staff who carried out work in the public and private sector was not being monitored.
“They have Medinet coming in and I have seen no evidence that they check the hours staff do,” he said. “People are working for Medinet and in Spire and Ross Hall hospitals, and they don’t know what hours they’re doing there.
“Lots of people are working for longer than 48 hours a week.”
The health board has said that no staff members have opted out of the working time directive, which states that employees should not work for longer than an average 48 hours a week, over a 17-week period. The health board is recruiting new staff to increase internal capacity, although many are not yet in post.