Opening hours of the Gilbert Bain Hospital restaurant hot food counter are to be cut to save the health board around £65,000 a year, but the canteen will remain open 24 hours a day with a more limited range of food on offer.
The changes, which come in on 1st April, are said to be unpopular with some staff. However, NHS Shetland chairman Ian Kinniburgh defended them, saying that they were preferable to less money being available for the direct care of patients.
The new hours mean that the hot food servery will be open from 8am to 2pm, covering the breakfast and lunchtime periods. The cafe had been losing money in the quieter afternoon period and weekends, according to the NHS.
Mr Kinniburgh said that the changes had been extensively discussed at the area partnership committee and staff appeared to appreciate that the reasons behind them were to try and save the cash-strapped health board some money.
The board is faced with £3.9 million cuts over three years despite the recent announcement of an extra £1.8m from the Scottish government.
Mr Kinniburgh said: “We are not doing these things to inconvenience people. We are doing these things because there are a whole series of savings that we have to deliver across everything we are doing.
“I would love to be in a position to be able to continue to operate the canteen without any restrictions, but when the choice is save money doing this, or take money out of direct patient care, we are doing the right thing.”
The canteen will be open to anyone in the hospital throughout the night with pre-plated food, sandwiches, snacks, soup that can be microwaved and vending machines supplying hot drinks and the like. Under the present arrangements the cafe is locked up when serving ends at 7pm.
Mr Kinniburgh said: “Sure there will be some folk who use the facility in the evening time, but the reality is it’s costing us too much money to run at the moment.
“Possibly there are some folk who do not agree with it. But the majority of staff, if they recognise the reasons we are doing it, will agree.”
According to NHS Shetland chief executive Ralph Roberts the canteen last year “probably lost around £65,000” and that was predominantly because it lost money at the evenings and weekends.
The health board has a policy to re-deploy staff on suitable work at the same grade, with options available in cleaning, portering and other services.
Mr Kinniburgh said: “These are essential to the running of hospital. These are hard working people [the canteen staff] who are able to do a whole range of things. These will be realistic options.”
Meanwhile, the health board is still considering options for the future of the Gilbert Bain Hospital’s Ronas Ward, which in the past has garnered high marks from inspectors, with the dual aim of saving money and improving services.
Mr Kinniburgh said that high among the objectives was preventing the loss of mobility among people who come to hospital.
Changes will fit in with the core objective of increasing care in the community for people who do not need to be in hospital wards.
He said: “This is an opportunity to look at how we do things and it is essential that we do examine that. We are not looking at the closure of services and that’s what we have said for a long time.
“We want a better service for people. Everything that we are doing at the moment is about how we can get people on their feet earlier.”
This includes an expansion of facilities for day care and ambulatory care where people may be in day hospital for minor surgical procedures and not taking up beds overnight.
Mr Kinniburgh said that the changes were being developed in full consultation with health care professionals and as well as saving money are aimed at giving NHS Shetland more capacity.
He said: “What we want to do is have clinicians change the things that we do. We want to get to the stage that what we are planning is effectively owned by the staff.
“Ultimately that’s where all health care is going. How we do things now is radically different to how we did things 10 years ago.
“The bottom line is people are living longer. That means we are delivering more care and keeping people more active in their own homes longer than we have done.”
Mr Kinniburgh said that the service would be evolving regardless of NHS Shetland’s financial situation and that people should only be in hospital as a last resort.
“We need to be better at moving people from a hospital experience to a community experience.”
He said there was a “tremendous appetite” among communities for greater involvement in health care and much of the work of the Integration Joint Board, which brings together the NHS and Shetland Islands Council, consisted of getting people from different organisations to work better together.