A Fife MSP claims a staffing crisis nearly forced the closure of a busy intensive care unit at a Kirkcaldy hospital at the weekend.
Alex Rowley claims staff, who were inexperienced, were drafted in from other departments to help in the ICU in Victoria Hospital on Saturday night.
He said the intensive care unit was full but there was not enough specially trained nurses to look after the patients.
Mr Rowley said: “I am told the management team thought it was acceptable on Saturday to use nurses from elsewhere in the hospital to staff the ICU. It has been suggested to me these nurses had no experience and one ended up with a ventilated and dialysis patient and had no skills to look after this patient.”
He continued: “These are the sickest people in Fife and their care was left in the hands of an untrained nurse.”
Mr Rowley claims he was told the ICU consultant threatened to close the unit unless there were trained staff. He said as a result, agency nurses were brought in. He added: “If this is the case then it is completely unacceptable.”
Meanwhile, Mr Rowley has requested an urgent meeting with Shona Robison, the Scottish cabinet secretary for health, about the wider issue of staffing at NHS Fife, particularly a shortage of consultant posts.
He said: “Last year at its peak there were 47 unfilled posts and this year it has gone up. We now have 53 unfilled consultant posts.
“It’s not just the cost of bringing in agency staff that concerns me, the biggest issue is people in Fife don’t have a consultant who knows their case.
“Seeing a consultant who has been drafted in from an NHS board in England to cover at weekends does not offer quality of care.”
Helen Paterson, NHS Fife director of nursing, said: “Regarding the situation in the Critical Care Unit at the weekend, we experienced a high demand for critical care with staffing levels reviewed on a shift by shift basis to ensure that appropriate levels of nursing skills were available within the unit and that patients continued to be provided with the best standard of care.”
Rona King, human resources director, said NHS Fife, in common with other health boards, has experienced challenges in recruiting consultants, adding: “I can confirm that we have appointed 20 consultants who will start in NHS Fife over the next few months.”
Health Secretary Shona Robison said: “Under this government the number of consultants at NHS Fife has increased substantially – by 38 per cent, a rise of 64 whole time equivalent posts. A further 20 consultants have been recruited and are due to start work over the next few months. NHS Fife has acknowledged there were staffing pressures last weekend but has stressed that safe staffing levels were maintained at all times.”