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Nicky Marr: Is Raigmore on the critical list?

By Nicky Marr

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Raigmore Hospital, Inverness
Raigmore Hospital, Inverness

When there’s only one regional hospital providing acute healthcare services for the whole of the Highlands, it is vital that Raigmore should have the staff, the resources, and the capacity to treat and care for all its patients at the point of need.

But right now, that is not happening, and patients are bearing the brunt.

This is in no way the fault of Raigmore’s dedicated clinical and care staff, who are doing wonders with the resources and the facilities that they have. The cause is decades of under-investment. Is Raigmore at breaking point? I’d suggest it is broken.

Last week saw three wards closed due to outbreaks of Covid-19 and scabies, and operations cancelled. Add in an increase in trauma cases, and the result was a lack of available beds. With no beds, operations had to be cancelled.

Just imagine the distress of a delayed operation. Imagine enduring more pain. When will you be seen again? What is the knock-on impact to your health and wellbeing?

Far from bursting with rude health, Raigmore is on the critical list. Can the patient be saved?

It’s not news that NHS Scotland is in extreme crisis; the Covid pandemic put untold stress onto an already under-funded and under-staffed institution, and staff, exhausted and demoralised by an inability, through lack of resources or colleagues, to care for patients to the best of their abilities, began to leave the service in their droves.

Now that the worst of the pandemic seems to be behind us, you’d have hoped we might be picking up. Now that the worst of winter is behind us, you’d have hoped the annual pressure on beds might be easing. Not so. Could recent nursing home closures be contributing to the bed-blocking problem? Or a lack of community carers to allow people to recuperate at home?

For once, our multi-partied cohort of Highland MPs and MSPs seem to be in accord. Each one, from Edward Mountain and Rhoda Grant, through Ariane Burgess and Drew Hendry, to Jamie Stone and Fergus Ewing, emphasised their distress and concern at the situation, when contacted for comment. And that’s when you know you’re in trouble. These politicians are rarely in agreement about anything. When they speak as if with one voice, it’s time to sit up and listen.

Each of us will have our own tales and ideas about what happens in the Highlands’ flagship hospital. Those of us who do get through its doors, who receive vital, life-saving support and treatment when it is needed, or operations within a reasonable timescale of diagnosis, will have nothing but praise for the skill, care, and attention we have received. But we are the lucky ones.

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I don’t have to look outwith my friends to find someone who has waited beyond the point of worry for a cancer scan or had a post breast cancer reconstruction surgery delayed.

One healthcare worker friend is considering leaving Raigmore to do something less stressful, because they can’t cope with the pressure of not being able to look after their patients the way they deserve to be looked after.

Another has talked about leaving the NHS and donating their skills in the voluntary sector. Several have already taken early retirement.

The pressure on Raigmore’s beds was beginning to ease by Friday; it seems that this immediate crisis has abated. But when will the cancelled operations be rescheduled? And how long till the next crisis? All it takes is another major trauma incident, or another ward closed to admissions and discharges due to disease or infection, and Raigmore will be back at breaking point.

It came as Inverness’s spanking new National Treatment Centre was opened last week.

This isn’t solely a Highland problem, but NHS Highland management, politicians, and clinicians need to come together to find and implement a long-term solution. For all our sakes. And our collective health.

Feel free to share your experiences with us – whether as a patient or staff – by emailing newsdesk@hnmedia.co.uk

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