Comment: Healthcare’s systemic problems must be tackled

File picture: Lisa Ferguson

File picture: Lisa Ferguson

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IT’S fine for the city of Edinburgh to have a spanking new £200 million hospital for children and young people, with modern healthcare facilities and more beds. But it demands sufficient, stable and committed staff to run it at optimum capacity.

Not for the first time, NHS Lothian finds itself wrestling with staffing pressures and problems in recruiting and retaining staff. While these problems are by no means confined to the city, they are persistent and acute here.

Now a leaked report by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, due to be presented to NHS Lothian later this month, features overworked staff, cancelled appointments, insufficient medical cover and low morale.

The report was commissioned after a staff shortage led to the temporary closure of the children’s ward at St John’s Hospital last summer. It also covers the Sick Kids hospital and ERI.

It finds that the St John’s children’s ward is now relying on a small core of people working extra hours to keep the unit functioning. The experts conducting the review were told that “staffing became unsafe if one person went off sick” and could not be replaced on the nurses rota. It also says the reputation of the St John’s ward had spread beyond Lothian, which may have added to recruitment problems.

Let’s not decry the efforts that have been made by NHS Lothian and the various initiatives it has adopted to tackle the problems. Some of these have been innovative and have borne limited results. Criticism should not dampen these efforts.

But the report is also a reminder that the effect of staff shortages is also borne by patients who rely on NHS Lothian for timely and efficient service.

The report has already prompted calls from Labour health spokesman Anas Sarwar who says the government “needs to get to grips with the pressures that are being reported by staff and reassure the public about patient safety”.

Here are systemic problems that need to be tackled. There are also concerning questions about management within the health board.

The full report must be made public as soon as possible – and a decisive response set out by the health board and Holyrood administration.