Staff at a West Lothian hospital have been assaulted and inexperienced nurses have been left struggling to run wards amidst a staffing crisis, it has been claimed.
The problems are at St John’s Hospital, Livingston. One source told The Ferret that the current situation was “10 times worse” than it was during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Unions said there are similar issues across Scottish hospitals, pointing out the NHS is currently under immense pressure due to 6000 nurse vacancies.
The issues at St John’s Hospital are due to senior ward staff leaving and positions not being filled, according to the source who asked not to be named.
They said: “There are supposed to be five staff nurses on a ward, but this has fallen to two. In the past if staffing levels fell to three nurses, staff would be sent from other areas to cover. But currently other wards don’t have any extra staff to send. Four members of staff have been assaulted.
“It’s 10 times worse than Covid. One student nurse is looking after 15 patients. It is so, so dangerous. During Covid the hospital stopped out-patient appointments to help staffing on wards.
“Three nurses on a ward was unheard of but now it’s just two, and often both are less than two years qualified. Management needs to do something urgently, as they did during Covid.”
NHS Lothian said maintaining patient safety and staff wellbeing continues to be its top priority.
Unison – which has around 500,000 members within the NHS – said there are major problems across NHS Scotland. “Our members continually tell us about these problems. The NHS has a staffing crisis,” a spokesperson for the union said.
“There are over 6000 nurse vacancies across Scotland. Staff regularly have to run wards with staff below minimum standard. Staff worry they make mistakes, and these problems have been building for years – they have been made worse by Covid but they are not the cause.”
Alison Macdonald, executive nurse director at NHS Lothian, told The Ferret that services are “under considerable and sustained pressure” across the NHS generally, and that demand is high due to patients often presenting “more complex and serious cases”.
The situation has been exacerbated by high levels of staff absence due to Covid and ongoing recruitment challenges. She said: “We have a range of measures in place to help manage capacity across our sites and to ensure safe staffing levels, this includes twice daily site safety huddles, thrice daily Lothian wide conference calls and specific meetings focused solely on staffing.”
Macdonald said staffing is “closely monitored” to assist with daily workforce planning, and where necessary, “action is taken which can include redeploying staff, and requesting additional staff” through bank, agency or mutual aid arrangements.
She added that in “times of extremis we cannot expect our staff to deliver care in a business-as-usual approach” and guiding principles have been set out to support staff to “prioritise aspects of care that are critical to our patients”.
Macdonald continued: “These principles include advice and support on staff well-being and links with professional regulation. We encourage staff feedback and actively promote check-in and check-out of shifts. We have put limits on the number of meetings our senior nursing teams attend, to ensure they are visible and can help support our ward staff.”
Macdonald urged staff to raise any concerns they have with line managers, but if they feel unable to do so they should contact their trade union, the HR department, or a confidential service called Speak Up, she added.
Nurses have highlighted issues elsewhere
The concerns over staffing at St John’s Hospital follow similar issues at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow. They were highlighted by nurses who said they are suffering stress and fear as a result of staffing levels.
In a letter to the board at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow, as reported by The Sunday Post last weekend, members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) warned that nurses are under such pressure some are going off sick or quitting their jobs.
In June, the Royal College of Nursing Scotland (RCNS) warned that patients were at risk due to staff shortages across the NHS.
Colin Poolman, RCNS director, said then that 9.5 per cent of registered nurse posts within NHS Scotland were unfilled. He added: “It is sadly not surprising that 86 per cent of nursing staff reported that the staffing levels on their last shift were not sufficient to meet all the needs and dependency of their patients and nearly 70 per cent said that patient care was compromised as a result.”
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