NURSES have been required to fill in for doctors at a hospital where the children’s ward has suffered recurrent staffing problems, Tory leader Ruth Davidson told MSPs.
The Conservative said a report by NHS Lothian into the problems at the paediatric unit at St John’s Hospital in Livingston revealed “on some occasions advanced nurse practitioners or paediatric nurse practitioners are required to fill rota gaps”.
She branded this “utterly unacceptable” as she challenged the First Minister on staffing issues in the health service.
NHS Lothian bosses have twice had to close the children’s ward at St John’s to in-patients because of shortage of medical staff, prompting the health board to announce a comprehensive review of the acute paediatric service at the West Lothian hospital.
The Scottish Conservative leader challenged Nicola Sturgeon on the issue at First Minister’s Questions, telling her that across Scotland more than 160 consultants posts had been lying vacant for six months or more.
Referring to St John’s, she said a report from the local health board showed there is a “continuing heavy reliance on a small number of staff doing additional night and weekend shifts” to cover the doctors rota and this is “prone to short-notice collapse because of sickness or other unplanned absence”.
The report also claims the “middle-grade medical rota remains unstable due to vacancies”, Ms Davidson said, adding that “on some occasions advanced nurse practitioners or paediatric nurse practitioners are required to fill rota gaps - in other words, back-filling for doctors because they can’t get the staff”.
She added: “This may be an exceptional case but it is utterly unacceptable.
“The doctors say we need action and isn’t this right here the consequence of inaction from this government?”
Ms Sturgeon accepted there are “challenges” at St John’s but insisted overall improvements had been made there under the SNP, saying the government had invested in a range of improvements at the hospital, including a new MRI scanner, a new eating disorders unit and a refurbished labour ward and special care baby unit.
The First Minister also stressed the SNP’s record on NHS staffing, saying it had reached record levels.
Figures earlier this week showed that at the end of March 2016 there were 161,656 people employed by the NHS in Scotland, the highest number ever.
The SNP leader said: “Ruth Davidson speaks specifically about the consultant vacancy rate, the consultant vacancy rate in our NHS today is lower than it was when this government took office. It was 7% when we took office, it’s now 6.5%.
“Of course, that is a percentage of a total number of consultants working in our NHS that is much higher than it was when we took office.
“So, however you cut it, however you look at the statistics, there are more people - including more doctors and nurses - working in our NHS today than was the case when the SNP took office.
“I think that is a record to be proud of but I know we must continue to improve our NHS so that it continues to provide good-quality care for people across Scotland.”