Workers raise NHS Lothian staff shortage alarm

Low levels of staffing have raised fears about over-stretched workers unable to do their jobs properly. Picture: Getty
Low levels of staffing have raised fears about over-stretched workers unable to do their jobs properly. Picture: Getty
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HEALTH workers have raised the alarm over NHS Lothian staffing levels at least once every single day for the past five years.

Elected officials today vowed to get answers as the depth of concern among doctors and nurses about the staffing levels at “overstretched” hospitals was revealed.

Dr David Farquharson said patient safety is still the priority. Picture: Jane Barlow

Dr David Farquharson said patient safety is still the priority. Picture: Jane Barlow

The startling finding is contained in a response to freedom of information request, which found that concerns had been recorded over staffing 2604 times in the past five years.

The health board announced swingeing staff cuts six years ago, getting rid of 2000 employees in a bid to cut costs.

Concerns were raised more than 620 times a year between 2012 and 2014, however the level has dropped over the past 12 months to 403.

Jackson Carlaw MSP, health spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives, who lodged the freedom of information request, said the figures indicated the health service was “terribly overstretched” in the Lothians, and would “worry” patients.

He said: “It’s one thing patients and politicians raising an eyebrow about staffing levels on wards.

“But when these warnings are coming from workers themselves you know there’s a problem.

“NHS Lothian has been forced by the Scottish Government to make staffing cutbacks in recent years, and it seems this has prompted widespread concern among those who know best.

“Not only is this a worry for patients, but it also means staff in the Lothians’ hospitals must be terribly overstretched, and that helps no-one in the long term.”

In the same information request, NHS Lothian did not respond to a request for the number of times concerns over patient safety had been raised over the past five years, on the grounds that examining records of each “adverse event” would take too long and cost too much.

Lothian Labour MSP Sarah Boyack said she would raise the issue with Scottish Government health minister Shona Robison.

Ms Boyack said: “The staff pressures revealed by these figures are deeply concerning.

“We urgently need to know whether these shortages are running across the whole of NHS Lothian or whether there are key areas suffering from understaffing.

“This is another graphic illustration of the Scottish Government’s under-funding of NHS Lothian in the face of growing demands.

“I will be raising the issue with the health minister to ensure patients do not suffer.”

In 2013, the Evening News reported how NHS Lothian bosses were forced to offer expensive stand-in locum doctors a 20 per cent pay rise after a lack of trainees in key areas led to a workforce crisis.

A review of staffing levels found that across a range of areas, including emergency medicine, gynaecology, paediatrics and X-ray imaging, posts were lying empty because of a lack of suitable candidates.

And in 2014, the £1 million-a-month bill for agency nurses was identified as a key contributor to the health board’s £70m funding gap as bosses branded finances “fragile”.

Dr David Farquharson, medical director at NHS Lothian, said: “Patient safety is our top priority and our 24,000 staff are actively encouraged to report any concerns that may impact on our ability to deliver safe, high quality services.

“This strong culture of reporting allows us to respond to concerns quickly and prevent any impact on patients.”

lizzy.buchan@edinburghnews.com