Two wards for dementia patients have been temporarily closed by NHS Grampian due to nurse shortages.
The two units affected by the closure are the Loirston ward and Lochhead Day Hospital at Royal Cornhill Hospital in Aberdeen.
“Staff on the wards have gone above and beyond the call of duty in providing cover”
Lochhead is a dementia assessment unit, while Loirston is a 12-bed ward caring for women with progressing dementia, and associated symptoms of stress and distress.
A total of 38 dementia patients are affected by the one-year closure, with the health board stating that the decision will “enhance patient safety” because registered nurse posts were still unfulfilled.
More than one fifth of the posts were vacant, with the hospital having more than 55.6 registered nursing vacancies, comprising up to 22% of the wards’ workforce.
The board said arrangements were being made to find alternative accommodation for the Loirston ward patients. There are 10 in total, five of whom are ready to live in the community.
“We are working with nursing agencies to recruit appropriately trained staff as soon as possible”
In a statement, NHS Grampian confirmed that direct communication will be given to affected patients and their families. This will include an invitation to meet with members of the management team at Royal Cornhill Hospital to discuss next steps.
Jane Fletcher, the board’s head of hosted mental health and learning disability services, said: “In recent months my team have been exploring different ways of working or using different mixes of staff groups to find a long-term solution.
“In the meantime, staff on the wards have gone above and beyond the call of duty in providing cover,” she said.
She added: “However, working in this way is unsustainable. I also have a duty to look after the staff here, so they are able to look after their patients.”
Dr Alastair Palin, a consultant psychiatrist at Royal Cornhill Hospital, said: “This has been a very difficult decision to take and I want to reassure the public we exhausted all other options before arriving here. The safety of our patients and staff must be paramount.”
“We exhausted all other options before arriving here. The safety of our patients and staff must be paramount”
To address the situation, the Scottish government has said it will provide resources to NHS Grampian, with a spokesman confirming an increase in the board’s budget by more than £315m.
Isla McGlade, interim associate nurse director for mental health and learning disability services, said 22 newly qualified nurses would join the hospital in October.
“While this is an enormous boost, these new recruits will need support as they settle into their first job after graduation,” said Ms McGlade.
“In the short term, we are working with nursing agencies to recruit appropriately trained staff as soon as possible to cover from now until the newly qualified nurses are settled,” she added.
Even with the “boost” in qualified nurses joining the team, Ms McGlad said 30 spots would still be vacant.