'Patients dying' because of NHS staff shortages

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DOZENS of patients are dying each year because hospitals are failing to provide life-saving treatments outside normal working hours, doctors have warned.

• Patients' groups say the situation is 'despicable'

A damning report reveals half of Scots have no access to a vital new service outside of the working week because some health boards do not allocate funds to pay for the necessary staff.

The investigation shows that specialist emergency teams, offering state-of-the-art techniques for patients suffering internal bleeding, are not on call in many major hospitals.

As a result, senior doctors estimate around 30 patients every year who suffer haemorrhages, usually caused by ulcers, tumours, accidents or childbirth, could be dying needlessly.

Hospitals throughout the country have been fitted with procedure rooms at a cost of up to 1 million to perform interventional radiology. Specialists, who claim the technique has major advantages for patients, stop bleeding with miniature metal devices inserted through tiny incisions.

The report found that hospitals in Greater Glasgow, Lothian, Tayside and Grampian all provide the service 24 hours a day.

However, Ayrshire and Arran, Fife, Forth Valley, Highland, Lanarkshire, Dumfries and Galloway, Borders and the Islands boards do not.

Last night, patients' groups described the situation as "despicable" and condemned hospital managers for failing to make services available.

The investigation was carried out by Dr Ian Zealley, a consultant radiologist at Ninewells Hospital, Dundee, on behalf of Scotland's Managed Diagnostic Imaging Clinical Network, a group of senior radiologists.

Haemorrhages are a major medical emergency suffered by around 7,000 Scots every year in which the body bleeds internally, often in the gut or pelvis.

Patients are usually treated using endoscopic surgery, where tiny cameras guide doctors to where the blood vessels are leaking.

In many cases this fails and doctors attempt risky open surgery. However, the new technique, 'interventional radiology', is far less invasive, which experts believe can save more lives.

But many hospitals only offer it during the working week, because staff are not paid to be available outside normal hours.

In such cases, patients suffering haemorrhages out of hours are likely to be transferred, given traditional surgery, or are not operated on.

Zealley said: "If you suffer major haemorrhage out of normal working hours in a Scottish hospital you have a 50:50 chance of this treatment being immediately available.

"The special procedure rooms cost 500,000 to 1m to equip, and are just sitting there unused out of normal hours either because local health serviceshave not taken up requests from interventional radiologists who want to provide this service, or because the issue hasn't made it on to the local agenda yet."

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