The recruitment crisis facing the health service in the Highlands was laid bare this week after it emerged that long-suffering kidney dialysis patients in Skye and Lochalsh will face a further wait to access life-line treatment closer to home.
NHS Highland confirmed that it has been unable to appoint the staff it needs to deliver the renal procedure from the Mackinnon Memorial Hospital in Broadford. There are currently four patients who make the thrice-weekly trip from their homes in Skye and Lochalsh to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness, where they have to spend four hours attached to a dialysis machine before returning home in the evening.
In November Iain Stewart, the then chief executive of NHS Highland made a pledge that the service would start in Broadford Hospital within six months – although only if staff could be found.
But last week Ross MacKenzie, area manager for the NHS Highland’s north and west division, had disappointing news for the patients.
He said recruitment of the staff required “had not gone as well as we hoped,” making it unlikely the service would be ready by April. He added that only one person was being interviewed for a staff nurses’ position.
The service requires two staff nurses and one senior staff nurse. Mr MacKenzie said another potential recruit for the senior staff nurse position had withdrawn their application, and the posts would now be readvertised.
Patient Jean MacIntosh, who lives in Inverinate and has been making the trip to Raigmore since August 2018, described the delay as ‘frustrating’.
She said: “We’re hoping now that the service will be available from May. But the date keeps on getting put back. We were initially told January.
“In the winter weather, it’s not the easiest journey to have to make three times a week.”
A taxi currently takes Mrs MacIntosh, along with patients who live in Plockton and Camuscross, to Inverness every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. A fourth patient drives himself from Kyle, while for a spell a fifth patient had also been making the journey from Uig on Skye.
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant said she was disappointed at the delay.
She said: “This is an obvious blow to my constituents in the Skye, Lochalsh and Wester Ross area who have to endure a 160-mile round trip, three times a week for treatment in Raigmore Hospital.
“While this is disappointing, it is encouraging that NHS Highland are taking this issue seriously and are going to extend the reach of their advertising. I have passed this information to my constituents involved and I will keep pressure on NHS Highland to provide this service as quickly as possible.”
Kate Forbes MSP added: “If anybody thinks they could and should apply for these roles, then I would encourage them to do so. It is an extremely rewarding opportunity that will make a huge difference to patients.
“I hope that the reach of the adverts is far wider because it is imperative that these roles are filled as quickly as possible.”
The health board has committed to making internal alterations to the day room at the MacKinnon Memorial Hospital in Broadford to facilitate the new service, which will also be made available at the new hospital currently under construction in the village.
Making dialysis available in Broadford would represent the first time that NHS Highland had a renal unit in a hospital managed by rural practitioners.
Article by Keith MacKenzie