A TOP brain surgeon at the Western General Hospital has warned that a lack of beds means patients are being turned away when they arrive for surgery.
Dr Patrick Statham, who has 24 years’ experience as a consultant neurosurgeon, told Edinburgh Western MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton that he was being forced to cancel operations – resulting in medics’ morale “plummeting”.
The surgeon, who also specialises in spinal surgery and skull base tumour surgery and has lectured and taught in Britain, Europe and the US, wants beds to be ringfenced at the hospital to make sure there is always space.
Liberal Democrat MSP Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “I was very troubled that a senior surgeon in neurology in the Western General was taking time out of his busy day to contact an MSP about what he feels is the deepest crisis in his career.
“Elective neurology patients are, with alarming regularity, having operations cancelled in order to meet the needs of the wider hospital.
“In other regions of the country there is a recommended ring-fencing of beds to preserve these elective operations with no real material cost to the wider hospital.”
Mr Cole-Hamilton told the Scottish Parliament’s health and sport committee yesterday that the neurologist had contacted him to raise his concerns.
He said: “Dr Statham 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 were not about systemic issues.
She said: “We don’t see a high volume of complaints about neurology.”
Jacquie Campbell, interim chief officer at NHS Lothian, said: “Like all health boards across the country we are currently experiencing a high demand for our services which has an impact across all of our hospital departments.
“Our dedicated teams are working hard to prioritise patients by clinical need and in some instances appointment dates require to be changed.
“I apologise to anyone who has had their appointment rescheduled.
“We have identified additional funding that will provide extra support from the private sector meaning more people can be seen more quickly across a number of specialities, helping to minimise waiting times.
“We also continue to work closely with our four health and social care partnerships to ensure the patients who no longer require hospital care are discharged as quickly as possible.”