A union has slammed the decision to temporarily close an adult mental health ward at Royal Cornhill owing to staffing shortages.
NHS Grampian said it would be making changes this week to make best use of the currently available workforce in Mental Health and Learning Disability Services in Aberdeen and to respond to continuing workforce challenges.
UNISON, the union for NHS workers, said the move was a direct result of the Scottish Government’s failure to respond to the staffing crisis in the NHS and for failing to invest in Scotland’s hospitals.
Echoing those sentiments was Scottish Conservative MSP for the north-east, Tom Mason, who said the decision was “deeply regrettable”.
Regional UNISON organiser Simon Watson said: “We are sickened that staff shortages have resulted in this closure and vulnerable adults in Grampian may suffer as a result.
“Short staffing is nothing new – the Scottish Government has known about the staffing crisis for a long time but its response has been wholly inadequate.
“Politicians have to stop using the NHS as a political football and decide what sort of NHS this country needs. UNISON is clear that the way ahead is to invest in well-trained staff working in a properly-funded NHS that puts patients at the heart of everything. We must ensure that the profession is fit for purpose and remains one that others aspire to join – not one plagued with under-staffing and low morale.”
Martin McKay, a mental health nurse and also branch secretary of UNISON’s Grampian health branch, said: “Staff on the wards have gone above and beyond the call of duty in order to provide cover, however, this is unsustainable and not a safe way to staff our wards. It is essential that we properly invest in our hospitals and in safe staff numbers.”
Tom Mason MSP commented: “NHS Grampian is doing the best it can, but the fault lies clearly with the SNP Government for poor workforce planning, and not training enough nurses in the first place. The Scottish Government must urgently review the current shortfall in available training places.”
From tomorrow (Thursday), adult and older adult beds will be reconfigured and existing staffing will be enhanced by consolidating expertise across five wards instead of the existing six wards.
None of the wards are currently operating at their full bed capacity, therefore the change will mean patient care can be better managed. There will be no change in the way that patients are referred to the service and where possible continuity of clinical staff will achieved for patients that are moving to a different ward.
NHS Grampian said it was "part way through a planned journey" to provide a better and safer environment for patients and staff. It said this week's changes would improve safety as will the programme of ward upgrades which started earlier this year.
Jane Fletcher, head of Hosted Mental Health & Learning Disability Services, said: “We are working with staff to plan this change. Any change is unsettling but the safety of patients and staff is our main priority. This is a temporary move and we expect staffing levels to improve in the coming months as graduate nurses take up employment at the hospital.
"We are also committed to improving the safety of the ward environment and have already spent £1.45m on Huntly ward to reduce. Over the next two and a half years we will invest a further £9 million to bring all all acute admission wards up to the same standard.
“HR and Staffside colleagues are providing support to the team at Royal Cornhill Hospital. I am extremely grateful to the full staff team there. Whether they are leading on this work, preparing to move to another ward or continuing to work in their own area, their professionalism and understanding is recognised and appreciated.
“We will also be looking at the models of care for the longer term to determine how the service needs to be organised in the future to better meet the needs of patients. This work will involve the public, staff and partners to make sure that the services are sustainable for the long term.”