70 new beds planned at ERI to ease pressure

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PLANS to create up to 70 new beds at the Capital’s flagship hospital have been unveiled – on the back of an admission from health chiefs the facility is failing to cope with the strain caused by the onset of winter.

The Royal Infirmary has seen patient numbers surge in recent weeks and wards close because of a high number of norovirus cases.

The added pressure has resulted in the reopening of the mothballed Royal Victoria Hospital and has resulted in a sharp decrease in the number of emergency admission patients being dealt with on time.

Some patients have also had their vital operations cancelled.

The Government expects 98 per cent of emergency patients to be admitted or discharged within four hours, but this month, NHS Lothian hit the target in 87 per cent of cases, and at busier times succeeded just 66 per cent of the time.

NHS Lothian’s nurse director, Melanie Hornett, admitted that performance against the target was “dire” and that the Royal Infirmary is under “extreme pressure”.

She said: “It means many, many patients are waiting long lengths of time to be admitted. We have been in a position over the last two weeks at the hospital where we can’t sustain our model of care in terms of ensuring patient safety.”

One ward at the Royal Victoria is reopening this week and another will follow next week, with the cost expected to hit £850,000 by March.

Two further wards at the hospital, which shut in August, are expected to open this winter, costing a further £160,000 per month. Bed blocking patients – who are well enough to leave hospital but have nowhere to go – are to be transferred to the reopened facility.

NHS Lothian chief executive Tim Davison said the Royal Infirmary is performing “disproportionately poorly” and warned it is “uniquely compromised in its ability to care for patients coming through the front door”.

He said a plan to open 60 to 70 beds, hopefully by next summer, had received backing from senior doctors at the hospital. “The Royal Infirmary is too small. That has been acknowledged in the past but nothing has ever moved forward,” he said.

Mr Davison said the health board would continue to rely on the Royal Victoria until new beds are opened elsewhere. It is planned that the new wards would be mainly built in areas of the Royal Infirmary which are now used for office space.

Gavin Brown, Conservative MSP for Lothian, called on NHS Lothian and the Government to explain why better plans for the yearly increase in winter admissions had not been put in place. He said: “What’s even more worrying is that, so far, this has not been a severe winter. That could change at any point, and we have to be ready for that.”

Responding to Mr Davison’s comments, Labour Lothians MSP Sarah Boyack said: “This is a much-needed reality check from NHS Lothian’s new chief executive. Only weeks ago Audit Scotland said that the NHS was on an amber warning – today we hear NHS Lothian’s heading for the critical list.

“The message couldn’t be clearer. More resources are needed and effective management is vital. I’ve been saying this for months – It’s now over to the SNP Government to help find the resources.”

Hospital chiefs will look further afield for staff

A SEARCH for staff to work at the under-threat children’s ward at St John’s Hospital is to be extended to Australia and India.

The facility is facing a permanent downgrade from next year, due to a shortage in the number of trainees to support the out-of-hours paediatric service at the hospital.

The news came as health bosses warned that the children’s ward in Livingston was “unattractive” to top doctors, due to low levels of young patients who are admitted overnight.

NHS Lothian, backed by Scottish Government cash, is to embark on the worldwide search to recruit consultants, speciality doctors and advanced nurse practitioners in a last-gasp drive to allow the ward to remain open in the long-term.

It is hoped that offering them the chance to work in Edinburgh at the Sick Kids Hospital and the Simpson Centre at the Royal Infirmary will entice new staff who will also support the St John’s ward.

NHS Lothian’s medical director, Dr David Farquharson, said: “We are unambiguously committed to supporting the 24-7 service. But it’s got to be safe and practical.”

Yesterday, we revealed that NHS consultants were being paid triple time - £1800 a shift - to work night shifts to keep the ward running.