STAFF shortages may have contributed to two deaths in a single four-week period at a flagship Scottish hospital, an investigation has found. 

Both patients died at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QEUH) in Glasgow earlier this year.

The revelations come ahead of the warning last week by a senior doctor
that Scotland’s NHS is in “a perilous situation” amid a staffing and funding crisis.

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said last Sunday that the NHS was facing “its most challenging winter yet” because of the legacy of the pandemic, tighter budgets and reducing staffing, and that it would take “at least five years” to fix.

Official figures show about 6,000 nursing and midwifery posts are unfilled across the service while A&E waiting-time targets continue to be missed.

Dr Iain Kennedy, chairman of the doctors’ trade union the British Medical Association, who delivered the warning over the “perilous situation” facing the service said last week some 15 per cent of hospital consultants’ posts were vacant. 

The staffing issues relating to two deaths at the QEUH were revealed in response to a Freedom of Information request.

A Datix incident reporting system report obtained under FOI by Scottish Labour which had asked for incidents related to “staffing or an inappropriate skill mix” showed a total of 336 incidents  in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde between July 18 and August 18, 2022.

These included 59 “near misses” recorded across the health board, and 14 incidents causing illness or injury – 10 of which were at the QEUH. 

‘Tragic figures’
Scottish Labour public health spokesman Paul O’Kane said: “These tragic figures lay bare the cost of the workforce crisis engulfing our NHS. 

“Lives have been lost, patients have been hurt, and dozens more catastrophes were narrowly avoided.

“NHS workforce is overstretched and undervalued, and these terrifying figures are a glimpse of what will happen on a larger scale if the Scottish Government’s negligence continues.

“Our worst fears are already being realised, and things will only get worse as we head into winter. Hardworking NHS staff are being put in these impossible positions because of the SNP Government’s failure. Humza Yousaf must act now before winter begins.”

Mr Yousaf, who was branded by Scottish Labour in a Scottish Parliament debate last month as the worst health secretary since devolution, told BBC Scotland’s Sunday Show he hoped the public would understand the reasons that the NHS was under “such significant pressure”.

“It is not performing at the level that any of us would like, that is stating the obvious,” said Mr Yousaf, who this month announced that £600 million would be provided in the coming months to shore up health. 

He said: “It will take years. It isn’t going to happen in the course of winter. Our recovery plan is over the course of five years, because this is going to take at least five years. This winter itself is going to be the most challenging the NHS has ever faced.”

Reasons included the lingering effects of the pandemic but also the high levels of delayed discharge of patients fit to leave hospital.

“One of the biggest problems in our hospitals is the high level of delayed discharge,” Mr Yousaf said.

“Eighteen hundred people who are clinically safe cannot get out because local authorities are unable to provide social care, either at home or care home places.”

He said social care had been hit by “a triple whammy” of Brexit – causing staff shortages – the pandemic and high energy and inflation costs, creating a “tough business model” for care home operators.

£400m cuts
DEPUTY First Minister John Swinney unveiled cuts worth £400m to the health and social care budget on Wednesday as part of £615m raft of public spending savings in addition to cuts announced in September of more than £560m.

The review of the in-year budget was due within two weeks of the “mini-Budget” in Westminster, which ultimately cost Liz Truss her job as Prime Minister, but was twice delayed. The announcement meant £1.2 billion has been cut from the Scottish budget in two months.

Mr Swinney blamed the “severe financial mismanagement” by the UK Government, saying “calamity is giving way to austerity” ahead of the Autumn Statement on November 17. He also pointed to “extraordinary pressures from inflation” which he said had forced the Government’s hand.

The £400m reprioritised from the health budget includes £118m in cuts to Covid-19 spending on vaccination, Test and Protect, and PPE, as well as £70m from social care and the development of the heavily-criticised National Care Service plans.

A further £85m has been raided from primary care services, including delays to community optometry and audiology services, with an additional £83m cut from the Scottish Trauma Network and improvement programmes.

NHS pressures

RESPONDING to revelations that staffing issues contributed to two deaths in July and August at the QEUH, Mr Yousaf underlined the pressures the service was under.

“Our thoughts are with anyone who has suffered the loss of a loved one while in our care. The health service is facing a triple threat this winter – recovering from the worst effects of the pandemic, high energy costs and rising inflation, and the loss of much-needed staff due to Brexit,” he said.

“Like health services across the UK and globally, we expect this winter to be one of the most difficult NHS Scotland has faced.Through our £600m health and care plan we are recruiting 1,000 new NHS staff, including up to 750 nurses, midwives and allied health professionals from overseas. 

“A key focus of our £600m winter plan is on social care and actions to encourage integration authorities to help alleviate delays. We continue to take positive action to promote patient safety, and just last month we introduced the Patient Safety Commissioner for Scotland Bill to Parliament.

"This legislation will further strengthen the patient voice within the healthcare system and take action to promote patient safety across our healthcare system as a whole.”

A spokesman for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said: “We would like to extend our sympathy to families who have lost a loved one in our hospitals.

"Staff members are encouraged to report incidents, including staffing issues, on the Datix incident reporting system.

"However, an issue may be resolved quickly and the Datix report is not updated to show this. Therefore, while the Datix reports are a useful record of concerns about staffing, they may not give an entirely accurate picture of the situation.
“Investigations into the circumstances surrounding the two deaths are ongoing. However, we cannot comment further due to patient confidentiality.”

Serious concern
SPEAKING after Mr Swinney’s statement, Dr Lailah Peel, deputy chair of BMA Scotland, said: “The whole of healthcare is under huge pressure so any area which is deprioritised will be a cause for serious concern as some of these services are close to collapse, not least due to lack of staffing.

“We must continue to invest in staff and all frontline services if we are to avoid the situation becoming more precarious than it already is.

“Funding being cut in social care is particularly concerning – without adequate social care facilities in place, it is difficult to safely get patients, who require social care, out of hospital.

“As it stands we are already seeing the significant impact this issue is currently having on patients because of the poor flow through our hospitals and it is no exaggeration to say patients are coming to harm as a result.

“If we cannot get patients out of the back door, we cannot get them through the front door – the knock-on effect of social care struggling has huge implications for the wider health and care system.

“We are also seeing more patients presenting with mental health issues since the pandemic and cuts to a service which is already on its knees could be hugely damaging to the care that can be provided, given it is pretty much already stretched to the limit.”

The Scottish LibDems also highlighted £38m cut to mental health services, with party leader Alex Cole-Hamilton labelling that decision as “manifestly wrong”.