NHS Forth Valley: Nurse left to look after 37 patients on her own, an MSP has claimed

A nurse in Forth Valley Royal Hospital was left to look after 37 patients on her own last week, MSPs have heard.

The claim came as the health secretary gave an update on the improvement plans for NHS Forth Valley which he placed into special measures last month following poor performance and leadership concerns.

NHS Forth Valley has confirmed this did occur but said it was for a very short period of time.

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An update was promised by Health Secretary Humza Yousaf before parliament went into recess and he told MSPs on Thursday that he had already met Christine McLaughlin, the chair of the assurance board who will provide monitoring and support to the health board.

Health secretary Humza Yousaf gave an update on  Forth Valley Royal Hospital in parliament this week. Picture: Michael GillenHealth secretary Humza Yousaf gave an update on  Forth Valley Royal Hospital in parliament this week. Picture: Michael Gillen
Health secretary Humza Yousaf gave an update on Forth Valley Royal Hospital in parliament this week. Picture: Michael Gillen

But Richard Leonard, Central Scotland Labour MSP, questioned what support was currently being given to frontline staff, adding staff were being stretched to their limit.

He said: “The escalation to stage 4 is long overdue, but this escalation is focused at a very senior level. That may be where the change needs to begin, but what about support for workers on the front line? The failures have had a massive impact on them, leading not simply to low morale but to burnout, anxiety and depression. Cabinet secretary, on your watch, those health workers are on their knees, with many leaving the service altogether.

"I have been told that, just last weekend, one nurse at the Forth Valley Royal hospital was left on her own with responsibility for 37 patients – which is over four times more than the recommended safe limit. When is action finally going to be taken by this Government to give assurance not just to the leadership but to the patients and to give assurance and support to the poor bloody infantry who are working on the front line this Christmas?”

Mr Yousaf said that the Scottish Government would “ensure that those improvements percolate from the top right the way through to those who are on the front line”. He added that he was committed to meeting the whistleblowing champion for Forth Valley as he believed “strong role for whistleblowing to play right across our national health service”.

Later in a letter to MSPs, the health secretary gave further details of the action being taken in Forth Valley, including to tackle the long waits in A&E, mental health care and the out of hours service.

He said the assurance board met for the first time on December 1 and again on December 13, meeting fortnightly going forward.

A report from Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS) published earlier this month following an unannounced inspection found "limited improvement and in some cases a deterioration" in safe delivery of care at the hospital since inspectors last visited in April.

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Inspectors said many of their concerns related to the safe delivery of care, particularly in the emergency department and admission units where “many patients did not appear well cared for”.

Mr Yousaf said HIS will provide support from January to the end of March 2023 to NHS Forth Valley and will make a further unannounced visit in 2023, to assess and provide assurance on progress.”

Members were also told that the improvement plan initially put forward for out of hours care was “not to standard” and the health board were asked to come up with a revised plan.

He concluded: “I set out in my statement that escalation is a last resort, and a decision taken following a consistent demonstration that the NHS Forth Valley leadership team is unable to follow through with the transformational change required without additional formal support and monitoring.

"I have received assurance that the leadership within NHS Forth Valley is committed to delivering the required change, and it is important that this is achieved within the timeframes set out in the improvement plan.”

A spokeswoman for NHS Forth Valley said: “Due to unexpected and unplanned staff absences there was a short period of time of just over an hour where a ward was supported by one nurse alongside other healthcare staff.

"However, we review and monitor our staffing levels for every shift and, on this occasion, staff moved very quickly to provide additional nursing support as soon as possible.”