A meeting of NHS Fife’s board heard on Tuesday that a range of factors – including staff absence, the prevalence of Covid and high attendances at A&E - are contributing to the challenging circumstances the health board is currently working in.
Carol Potter, chief executive of NHS Fife, acknowledged the difficulties and pressures staff were facing.
She said: “Given the time of year our staff absence linked to summer holiday period alongside increased prevalence of Covid and a number of vacancies is obviously exacerbating the availability of our workforce and that’s causing pressures on our staffing.
"We also have a continuing high level of attendance in the emergency department and I think it’s important to acknowledge that this is beyond anything we experienced prior to the pandemic.
"I would also just want to acknowledge there are a high number of patients that are waiting much longer than four hours which is not a position that we want to be in and that is despite the best effort of the teams in the ED and elsewhere within the hospital.
"We do have a high number of Covid positive cases in the hospital and that continues both within our acute hospital and in the community hospital.
"As we know those pressures that we are facing in the health service are replicated for our colleagues in the social care setting and that impacts on our ability to get the required level of patient flow through our hospitals. All of that has combined and has resulted in us being at our highest levels of our operational escalation framework response."The teams are doing everything they possibly can in order to manage the situation.”
As a result some restrictions have had to be reintroduced to protect both staff and patients, such as a reduction in the number of visitors for patients from two to just one – a position she says is being reviewed on a weekly basis.
Ms Potter added: “It’s unrelenting at present, but care and compassion is always there, and thank you to all the teams involved.”
Ms Potter’s comments came as the latest A&E waiting times were published by Public Health Scotland.
The figures show that in the week ending July 17, just 54.2 per cent of patients attending accident and emergency in Fife were seen and either admitted or discharged within four hours, falling well short of the Scottish Government’s target.
NHS Fife had the lowest figure for the week of all Scotland’s health boards.
In response to the figures, Claire Dobson, director of acute services, added: “It is important to recognise that the Emergency Department does not operate in isolation and in recent weeks has been even more acutely affected by wider bed pressures elsewhere in the acute hospital and within our community hospitals.
"Furthermore, Covid-related absence across the entirety of the health and social care system and difficulties in ensuring the timely to discharge of patients to social care services and local care homes due to the virus are further exacerbating this pressure on beds, leading to patients often waiting longer within the Emergency Department as a result.
“Our emergency access performance, while some way short of pre-Covid levels, has regularly bettered the national average despite the unprecedented pressures on services.
"While it is likely that these pressures will remain for some time yet, with the numbers of Covid infections again beginning to show signs of receding, we expect to see performance return to around a similar level as we saw earlier this year.
“Crucially, all of those attending our Emergency Department are assessed and triaged, with those patients who are most unwell seen very quickly.”
“All patients who are required to wait are cared for and monitored throughout.”