First Person - with Maggie Millar

Maggie Millar
Maggie Millar

We journalists, if we are doing our jobs properly, have to write articles occasionally which, for right or wrong, cast individuals - or services - in a negative light.

Unfortunately for Fife NHS, Victoria Hospital in Kirkcaldy has become something of a hotbed for ‘horror’ health stories in recent months - so much so, it prompted me to remark to a colleague that I would dread landing up there.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and that’s exactly where I did end up.

Laid low with what I thought was a nasty flu, I phoned NHS 24 for some help only to be directed to the out-of-hours GP service on a Saturday night.

Reading the results from my admittedly very strange looking piddle sample, the doctor said: “You’re not going home. You have to be admitted.”

Err, what?

“You could be on the verge of kidney failure.”


Entered admissions ward at 10.00 p.m. - seen by resident doc a mere five hours later for the obligatory form-filling.

“What do you do?”

Erm, I’m a journalist.

“Really, who for?”

(Ruddy hell soft cell, here we go.)

Oh, for local papers...

“We’ve been getting a lot of bad press from them lately - have you seen the stories?”

Err, actually , I wrote a couple of them.

So, hey ho, on that happy confessional note my week-long tenure at the Vic began and I had little choice but to place my trust in the professionals.

But, after a few days of 40-plus degree fevers, IV drips filled with Domestos-strength antibiotics and a slowly lifting fug of tramadol, I realised I had valuable ‘insider’ knowledge of being in the Vic .

It was a real eye-opener.

First - and I must stress this - most of the staff who dealt with me were excellent.

But it was obvious they were battling a system which was hindering their ability to do their job properly and some were happy to speak off-the-record about it.

Admissions, for example, was described as a “World War Three zone” by one senior who explained European Time Directives meant each department really needed 10 doctors to operate a 24-hourrota system.

However, on the night I was admitted, one doctor was struggling against a tide of incoming patients - hence the five hour wait.

Admissions patients were then lucky to be transferred to an appropriate ward because a bed crisis was forcing some to be boarded out to others.

As a result, doctors were taking up to 3.00 p.m to do their morning rounds.

(When the Vic took over as Fife’s main hospital, the region effectively lost 100 beds.)

Meanwhile, once on a ward, four nurses would be tending to the needs of up to 22 patients yet, according to staff, that same ward boasted three managers.

And this seemed to be the crux of the problem - not so much a matter of total funds but where vital cash was being spent.

As one senior complained, politicians were deciding spend priorities in a bid to reduce waiting times when surely decisions over what operations were urgent - or not - would be best left to surgeons?

Cash aside, Fife was also suffering from a ‘brain-drain’ of medics who were voting with their feet by opting to work in Edinburgh or Dundee.

But despite all these challenges - and the occasional horror headline - the Vic is surviving and that’s a shining testament to its many staff who show a dedication and commitment to their jobs.

When I confessed to the admissions doc, much like a sinner to a priest, he replied: “We won’t hold it against you.”

Well, I’m back at my desk and glad to say the ol’ kidneys are still intact.