NHS staffing crisis forces ‘mothballing’ of Ronas Ward

Efforts are under way to plug major staffing gaps at the Gilbert Bain Hospital, with the Ronas Ward’s rehabilitation unit set to be mothballed by the end of February.

NHS Shetland plans to “reallocate” staff from the rehab unit to other wards as it deals with a shortfall in nurses.

The health service says it has made “continued efforts” to recruit, but 7.3 full time equivalent qualified nurse posts remain vacant in wards, theatres and outpatients – a shortfall of almost nine per cent.

Staff have been asked to work overtime and additional shifts have been laid on, but health chiefs admit that is not “sustainable” over the long term.

Patients currently in the rehabilitation unit will continue to receive their care in the Ronas Ward. However, the unit will be closed to incoming patients. Moves are being made to plan for care in wards one and three, with staff being concentrated in these wards.

Possible closure of the Ronas Ward has been discussed several times in recent months, as NHS Shetland looks to move towards a model adopting more community-based care.

But chief executive Ralph Roberts says the latest move has been made in response to staffing concerns. A final decision on what will happen with the unit will be taken when the integration joint board meets at the beginning of March. In the meantime, other services in Ronas Ward – such as the chemotherapy day unit – have not been affected.

Ralph Roberts says a decision still has to be taken on the long-term future of the Ronas Ward. Photo: Rosalind Griffiths

“We started talking to the staff of the need for us to move the staff into other wards because of vacancies that we’ve got across the hospital,” Mr Roberts said.

“We obviously can’t do that while we’ve got patients in Ronas. What we’re planning to do is talk to the staff over the next month while the patients who are currently in Ronas go through their rehab and are discharged. We expect that to take most of February.

“At the point that we don’t have any patients in the rehab unit in Ronas anymore we will temporarily mothball … the [rehab unit] and use the staff elsewhere in the hospital. From that time there will be no inpatients in the ward.”

He stressed that “no decision” had been taken on the long-term future of the ward.

“That’s a decision that is part and parcel of the discussion with the integration joint board. We are expecting to take a paper to them on 10th March. Subject to those discussions we will then go back and look at what we do longer term.

“At the moment this is about responding to the fact that we’ve got vacancies across the hospital and we need to make better use of our nursing staff.”

Mr Roberts said staffing problems were being felt across the UK, although he admitted the number of vacancies in the isles was higher than it had been in the past.

“We can cover that, but that requires us to get overtime, extra shifts. It’s not sustainable for the staff in the long term and it has a financial impact at a time when we want to avoid any unnecessary expenditure.”

He stressed that patient care should not be affected.

“Some of this is about ensuring we sustain continuity of care. If we look at the number of beds we’ve got available in the hospital to provide care, we’ve capacity to provide all the care that is required in the other wards – and that won’t change.”

Figures from NHS Shetland show occupancy in the hospital during the last quarter of 2016 averaged 52 per cent, varying from 28 per cent to 78 per cent.

Without the beds in the rehabilitation unit, the NHS says occupancy would have instead have averaged 58 per cent, with a variation from 32 per cent to 89 per cent.

It says this “relatively low” occupancy is a result of the “excellent work done by staff and carers”.


Add Your Comment
  • gordon downing

    • February 3rd, 2017 10:09

    Maybe if nhs Shetland treated front line staff better and dealt with the bullying issue which is rife within nhs Shetland. Having worked for NHS shetland And bullied out of my job by bad managers I have seen the way staff are treated by overpaid useless managers.

    • David Spence

      • February 3rd, 2017 11:36

      To be honest about it Gordon, I would say this is more about economics than anything else.

      When you have a government hell bent on privatising our beloved NHS, then whatever services it may provide having their budgets cut right, left and centre, it is not surprising local area health boards are finding it difficult.

      Yes, you can blame the local nhs board, SNP, Tavish Scott, but at the end of the day, the buck (disturbing irony of that word) stops at Westminster. It is as simple as that. Well, that is the way I see it. Pawn off the blame onto somebody else but the Conservative Government.

      As for Brexit, things like the NHS will become 10 times or more worse, and it is almost a certainty the NHS, under Brexit, will be privatised 100%.

      No doubt Donald Trump will have several fingers in the pie.

      Thanks a lot you Brexit lot.

      • G Fleming

        • February 3rd, 2017 18:19

        Well said David, we are already 15% worse off.wait till the tidal wave hits the British coast from Europe and the absolute ignorance displayed by Whitehall, will go a long way in deepening wounds with our fellow Europeans, sadly for a long time in the future.

  • Sue Wailoo

    • February 3rd, 2017 13:57

    It’s all very well, Mr Roberts, to state that “patient care should not be affected ” but just where are you going to put those, thankfully few, people with high dependency needs if you close Ronas Ward? Care homes even with the best intentions are unable to provide appropriate, safe, 24 hour nursing care let alone community care in their own homes.
    Those of us with even limited experience of the needs of a severely incapacitated elderly relative know the importance and necessity of Ronas Ward. Such people are unable to be rehabilitated and will be there until they die, for example sufferers of the effects of massive strokes.
    It is concerning to think they will have to spend those last years often distressed at being shuffled around busy, acute wards wherever there is available bed-space instead of the familiarity and continuity of the more reassuring, calmer atmosphere of Ronas Ward and its specialist nursing care.
    Please think again.

    • David Spence

      • February 3rd, 2017 17:00

      Sue, this situation will be nothing compared to what the ‘ private sector will do ‘.

      Have you seen or watched documentaries on how private care homes are run and how they treat the elderly?

      When you have a health care system that puts greed and profits ahead of its care of the elderly, then we really will have something to complain about.

      and we can thank those Brexit lot for the demise of the NHS and anything which is run by the State.

      Role on the Revolution and the death nail to corporate greed.

      • i tinkler

        • February 4th, 2017 10:29

        David Spence, Have you seen how the NHS treats the elderly? (Queen Elizabeth University Hospital , Patient left to starve for EIGHT days). Now look to Shetland, where are our Health Visitors? why are the numbers so cut? Why do we hear nothing about those shortages? Why does every Health board professional have to sign a “Press Gaging order”, when joining the NHS in Scotland. It has nothing to do with patient confidentiality but to protect the Admin and their political masters. You endlessly moan about the private sector, just look a little closer to home!

      • David Spence

        • February 4th, 2017 13:17

        Ian, when it comes to health care and the care of the elderly, I will most definitely complain about the private sector, and the atrocious way in which it treats the elderly, and where, practically, all their savings have to go on paying for an extortionate sub-standard care service which cares more about its profits than it does the people they are supposed to look after.

        Once Brexit takes over, this will be the kind of care service we will get, no thanks to the Brexit lot and their xenophobic and nationalistic attitude.

    • Christopher Johnston

      • February 3rd, 2017 19:01

      It seems to me the problems at Gilbert Bain are exacerbated by too large a hospital and too few staff. The hospital has 76 beds that must be maintained and staffed at considerable cost. Meanwhile, Orkney (with 7% less population) is building a new hospital with 48 beds, the same as their old hospital. What does Orkney appreciate that Shetland does not?

      • Ali Inkster

        • February 5th, 2017 15:35

        The size of the GBH was decided so it could respond to any incidents in the oil industry surrounding our islands. Yet again though the funds to provide this service have to be found from our own pot.

  • Paul Smith

    • February 4th, 2017 15:49

    I have to suport Gordon. Someone in the NHS needs to whistleblower the whole lot. The senior mangers are insufficient and we also have an abundance of them. We have services that are ineffective and managers that don’t listen to there staff. They have a tendency to want to build empires and make a name for themselves. When in reality they are destroying our NHS.

    • David Spence

      • February 5th, 2017 21:36

      Paul, aren’t employee’s of the NHS, gagged in note complaining about the NHS?

      Isn’t that the Tories job via lies and deceit (typical trait of Capitalism)?

      It seems to me that the Tories are running the NHS in such a way it is wasting millions on inefficient methods of care and treatment, useless feasibility studies, paying Management far too much, taking on agency nurses and staff (which costs 6 times or more if they were to employ somebody fulltime) undermining and forcing cuts to make the NHS almost redundant in its duty of care, then turning to the public, telling the public the extortionate cost of running the NHS, and then telling the public an alternative and cheaper way (which it most definitely is not, long term – 2 or 3 months at most) this being the crooked, vastly more expensive, robbing ‘ private sector ‘?

      When it comes to a Government, we should take a leaf out of what the late Kenny Everett said ‘ Bomb the B******* ‘? lol

  • Ian Tinkler

    • February 5th, 2017 10:35

    David Spence, I hardly think you can blame “Tne Brexit Lot” for the sorry state of the Scotish NHS. Nine years of Sturgeon, Secretary of Health and Scotish First Minister, fully devolved Scottish NHS, and just look what her brand of nationalist socialism has done. Today’s Times, “The Scottish government’s flagship policy of free care for the elderly appears to be in crisis amid a catalogue of failings that suggest many pensioners are being denied the care they deserve.” Very, very sad. A national disgrace!! http://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/scotland/scots-elderly-made-to-pay-for-free-care-kb6q0fchr

    • Bill Adams

      • February 6th, 2017 16:34

      Ian, is there a Government policy of free care for the elderly in England ?

  • David Spence

    • February 5th, 2017 11:33

    Granted, we have an ever increasing aging population, and the services within the NHS to try and cope with this.

    The disturbing irony of having a good standard of living and health care system (although the Tories are doing everything they can to destroy it, then telling the population ‘ There is a better service, it is called the private sector’ ) which is struggling due to the Tories forcing cuts on the NHS, making it difficult for local NHS Hospitals to cope and provide an adequate service.

    The Tories go on about increasing the monies for the NHS, but in reality, they are doing the opposite as a means towards privatising the NHS.

    What I find annoying, we can afford to bail out the largest crooks in society (the banks) when their own greed caused the problems, we cannot stop corporate companies avoiding paying tax (helped by the Tories) spend billions of WMD’s, spend billions on making a journey 20 minutes shorter – HS2, (Brexiteers) Lying about giving the NHS 350 million (a week I presume?) and so on.

    The long and short, Brexit will be the demise of the UK. Thanks to the narrow minded Brexiteers.

    • Ian Tinkler

      • February 6th, 2017 10:58

      Fun thought for you, David. Campaign for crown dependency post-Brexit with offshore banking rights and taxation rights. We could then full regulate and take control over our own banks, just like Iceland and send the corrupt ones down!! (Not completely jesting here!)

      • David Spence

        • February 6th, 2017 12:07

        Ian, it would be great to campaign for Shetland to become independent from Scotland/UK, but just like the infamous Stuart Hill, all the crown will do is ‘ plead ignorant ‘ and pretend the question of Scotlands legitimate claim to the islands was not heard.

        As they say ‘ Ignorance is Bliss ‘.

        What I would really like to see is for Scotland to present ‘ written proof ‘ the islands were indeed under Scottish Sovereignty.

        In saying this, the people of Shetland are playing into the hands of Scotland, by submitting without any fight or determination Scotland has no right to rule the islands. It is the usual Shetland excuse ‘ Why rock the boat ‘, ‘ We are happy with the way things are ‘ and so on.

        If the people of Shetland do not want to show any form of will or self-determination, then it will always be an up hill (excuse the pun in ref. to Mr Hill lol) struggle.

      • Ian Tinkler

        • February 6th, 2017 14:10

        Have a bit of faith, David. As far as I can tell, every candidate so far who has declared a wish to run, want’s more autonomy for Shetland. Only the old guard and Nats appear against more autonomy or just burry their heads or push them where the sun never shines and appease the SG with the forlorn cry, OIOF or daft buzz words like island proofing. I would just love to know what we are proofing against?

    • Ian Tinkler

      • February 6th, 2017 13:38

      David Spence, do you not understand. The Scotish NHS is run by the SG/SNP and has been for nine years.
      Your vile Tories have sweet FA to do with the Scotish NHS. It is all a “Nippy SNP show”. Formerly, Scotish Secretary of Health and now First Minister.

      • David Spence

        • February 6th, 2017 16:03

        I beg to differ on this Ian, as, I believe, the Tories have complete control as to what monies Scotland will receive in regards to state-run services, including the NHS.

        I also believe the Tories have done away with the Barnett Formula, thus they can, in affect, give the minimum amount of monies to Scotland, forcing the SNP to force Local Authorities to make drastic cuts to the services they provide.

        The Tories not only discredit Nicola Sturgeon, but they also prepare the ground work for the privatization of the NHS and other state-run services once TTIP (and it will come, no thanks to those lot of voted for Brexit) is welcomed with both arms by the Tories in the next 2, 3 or 4 years.

  • Christopher Johnston

    • February 6th, 2017 18:44

    @ Ali Inkster
    Then that decision was flawed and has no bearing on the Ronas Ward. And as the oil winds down the reason for it evaporates. The wind down starts in earnest as soon as the new operating contractor takes over from BP and begins cutting employment.

    Orkney has a major oil terminal at Flotta, although smaller than Sullom Voe. Yet they make do with 48 beds, as they have for many years.

    The maximum census quoted above was 78%, meaning at peak only 59 of 76 beds were occupied.

    • Allen Fraser

      • February 7th, 2017 9:40

      The present GBH was built in 1961 to that size for a population of just 17,000.

      It was built not just for the population of Shetland, but as the emergency hospital for all the fishing fleets in the northern North Sea. Not only is that still the case today, but the Gilbert Bain has also become the emergency hospital for the whole oil industry in the northern North Sea.

      The forced closure of Ronas Ward is the first step in Roberts “review of hospital size” and he will have Shetland back to the level of hospital provision we had in the 1950s.

    • Ali Inkster

      • February 7th, 2017 9:40

      Christopher, the oil industry in question served by the GBH is the offshore rigs, and even with the downturn there will be thousands of men and women working off these shores for many years to come.


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