Scottish NHS hospitals are facing a crisis. Severe staff shortages combined with increasing user needs have created a three-pronged problem of budget pressures, patient neglect and staff being exposed to harm.
The shortage of trained nurses in hospitals has led to overloaded work schedules for those still in place, with 60 to 70 per cent of nurses and midwives claiming they are unable to do their job properly as a result. Doctors are facing similar situations.
Such staff shortages inevitably lead to financial pressures due to overtime costs for regular staff and inflated agency rates. High-level staff inevitably cost the system more, with some reports claiming doctors at the consultant level may be paid £600 for just four hours of extra work.
While the cost of staff shortages is a valid concern, the general public tend to be more concerned about the standard of care and risk of harm they are exposed to as a result, and such fears are highly justified considering that around a fifth of inpatients are said to be at risk simply by being admitted, regardless of the condition that put them into hospital. What exactly are the problems that can be caused by staff shortages?
The harm can be physical, such as developing bed sores and being given the wrong medicine or the wrong test results. It can also be emotional, such as being made to wait hours to be officially discharged. Reports of women giving birth at home and nearly bleeding to death because they were sent home from a labour ward that was too short-staffed to cope are not uncommon.
Is there a solution?
The Safe Staffing Alliance, a pressure group made up of health experts, claims that the safe nurse-patient ratio should be no more than one to eight, yet nurses on the front line regularly work in conditions where this ratio is nowhere close to the real numbers. As a result, patients are put at risk every day.
It is important that provision is made for the long term to avoid this situation and its negative effects on patients, personnel and budgets.