The out-of-hours service at Portree Hospital will be suspended over the festive season.
NHS Highland announced that the service at the Minor Injuries Unit/Urgent Care Centre will be suspended for "some time" starting on the week beginning Monday 25 December. NHS Highland cite "escalating staffing problems" as the reason for the suspension, stating: "The decision has had to be made following safety concerns raised by senior clinicians over the number of available qualified staff, especially advanced nursing practitioners (ANPs), at Portree.
"Normally the MIU/Urgent Care Centre operates from 8am to 11pm every day. Unfortunately, because there is no ANP staffing cover, the current position is that it will be closed all day on Tuesday 26th December 2017. In addition, on Wednesday 27th December 2017 it will close at 6pm and on Sunday 31st December it will close at 8pm. During these times cover will be provided by the Rural Practitioner Team based at the Dr MacKinnon Memorial Hospital in Broadford.
"Senior clinicians who cover the service were unanimous that unless a clinician is based in Portree who is able to 'See, Treat and Discharge', it is safer to provide the service from a single site at Dr Mackinnon Memorial Hospital. While we appreciate this will not be popular, it was felt that there is a greater risk of clinical error if Portree patients are managed remotely without a senior practitioner onsite.
"NHS Highland would like to assure the public that this decision was not taken lightly. The management team exhausted all avenues to try and provide cover and will continue to take every possible action to maintain services and fill vacant shifts. There is no change to accessing emergency services and people should dial 999 if they experience a medical emergency and the Scottish Ambulance Service will respond as appropriate.
"Recruitment efforts to attract more ANPs to be based at Portree are ongoing. The posts have been re-advertised and interviews will be held the week commencing Monday 8th January 2018.
"The severe staffing pressure has been prompted by three resignations. Interviews took place at the end of November but did not result in any appointments.
On hearing the news, Ross, Skye and Lochaber MP, Ian Blackford immediately made contact with NHS Highland Chair, David Alston asking for an explanation as to why this happened and what, if any measures were taken to counter this situation before it developed.
He said: “There is considerable anger and real worry in the North of Skye that for those needing medical attention there will be no local service on boxing day and on two other days. How has this has been allowed to happen?
“This situation is just not acceptable, especially at a time when GP services are restricted anyway and their surgeries closed over the holiday period. I have asked David Alston how this decision came to be taken and what consultation was made with local staff in advance of the announcement.
“Surely NHS Highland management must have known about this for some time and if so should have been able to take more appropriate action.
“The is already widespread concern as to the future of services at Portree hospital and this temporary suspension of out-of-hours cover will lead to further questions on the true commitment of NHS Highland to retention of services after the new hospital opens in Broadford.
“However, my immediate concern is the welfare of people living in the North of Skye who may need emergency medical aid when it is not available in Portree. Let us hope there are no major incidents at this time."