A former health board chair has raised the issue of delayed operations at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary after experiencing the problems first-hand.
John Ross Scott, an Orkney councillor, recently underwent an aortic valve replacement after an eight-week stay in hospital.
His operation was cancelled twice and he was shifted between three different wards at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.
Writing to NHS Grampian chief executive Dr Caroline Hiscox, he described seeing frustration and anxiety among seven other patients from Orkney and Shetland in a similar position. He also recounts seeing a patient awaiting a triple bypass walk off the ward.
Mr Ross Scott, who was chair of NHS Orkney for eight years, was first admitted to Kirkwall’s Balfour Hospital on June 8 and was taken to Aberdeen by air ambulance on June 23.
While the 70-year-old says he is aware there was a major backlog of operations to get through, caused by Covid-19 and the summer holidays, he says that very little information was given to those left waiting and away from home.
Consultant critical care medicine and unit clinical director Dr Iain Macleod responded on behalf of NHS Grampian.
Dr Macleod said: “There have been cancellations of cardiac and elective surgical procedures (including cancer surgery) in recent months due to a lack of critical care capacity.
“We are incredibly sorry for anyone who has been affected by this.
“The reasons are multifactorial – Covid requiring us to man a Covid critical care unit and lack of nursing staff due to sickness, holidays and self-isolation – in common with the rest of the hospital and indeed this is reflected up and down the country.
“We review cases on a daily basis and prioritise the cases most in need.
“However, we remain significantly challenged for capacity and there are likely to be ongoing cancellations in the short/medium term.
“Like all critical care units in Scotland, we have been working over capacity for 18 months now.
“We are seeing unprecedented demand from emergency cases and Covid continues to take up to one third to half of our bed base. This leaves less capacity for elective procedures sadly.
“We continue to try our best to accommodate patients requiring elective surgery, there are simply not enough staff to safely care for all these patients.”
Mr Ross Scott has now had his operation and is looking forward to returning home to Kirkwall after a total of nine weeks and two days spent in hospitals in Orkney and Aberdeen.
He said: “I am satisfied with the response I received from the medical director in our hour-long constructive meeting together on Monday morning.
“It was good of him to give up the time to explain that he would in time be carrying out a review. The key problem seems to have been the lack of staff for intensive care and high dependency beds.
“Not all patients take the same time to recover and without the beds and the staff, Covid issues and holidays came into play, the same amount of operations could not progress… three did go to the Golden Jubilee.
“But this needs to be fixed or adjusted before the non-urgent patients come to get their operations. I quite understand this is no easy task but having so many patients languishing in hospital for weeks does not appear to be the right response.
“I am delighted that I have been given assurances that action will be taken.”
Story by local democracy reporter Andrew Stewart