MINISTERS have been urged to “get to grips” with staffing pressures in the NHS after an expert report into hospital services for children across Lothian revealed a catalogue of problems.
The report by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health was commissioned after a staff shortage led to the temporary closure of the children’s ward at St John’s Hospital, Livingston, last summer.
The review, which also covers the Sick Kids hospital and Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, is due to be presented to NHS Lothian later this month. But a leaked draft highlights overworked staff, cancelled appointments, insufficient medical cover and plummeting morale.
Labour health spokesman Anas Sarwar said it was essential the report was published as soon as possible. He said: “This report seems to raise serious concerns about the impact of staffing shortages at St John’s and the consequences this could have for patient safety.
“Our NHS staff are doing the best they can with the resources they have, but the truth is that the NHS is under serious strain. The government needs to get to grips with the pressures that are being reported by staff and reassure the public about patient safety.”
The report said the St John’s children’s ward relied 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.
And the report said the reputation of the St John’s children’s ward had spread beyond Lothian, which may have contributed to recruitment problems.
It said some children’s nurses expressed anxiety about high dependency units late at night when consultants were less available. And further concerns were expressed about nurses’ access to neonatal courses and the loss of newly trained nurses to England, where it was easier to get more training.
The report said: “There are concerns that the service at St John’s may not be safe at times as it is not always possible to ensure safe staffing levels.”
It also identified management problems, saying there was a “lack of clear vision” and a sense of insufficient leadership from the top.
It said management did not involve clinical staff in strategic development.
“There was reported to be a ‘gulf’ between and among clinicians and management which was damaging to morale and resulting in potentially poor patient care,” the report said.
Jim Crombie, chief officer of acute care, NHS Lothian, said: “We have acknowledged that, despite significant investment, we continue to face challenges with recruitment and sustaining a 24/7 workforce.
“We are also very much aware that our move to a new £200m hospital for children and young people, with modern healthcare facilities and more beds, will give us opportunities to deliver services differently.”