The GP inpatient ward at Pitlochry Community Hospital will remain closed indefinitely, NHS Tayside have confirmed.
Evelyn Devine, Head of Health for NHS Tayside said, “the interim closure will continue at the nine-bed inpatient unit” at a meeting of the Integration Joint Board on Wednesday, 16th of February 2022, following a report on the unit’s current status.
The unit has been closed since early 2022, due to long-standing staffing and recruitment difficulties in rural areas, particularly within Highland Perthshire. The ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has also affected the availability of staff across the whole health and social care system.
Also at the meeting was Sarah Dickie from NHS Tayside, who said, “Whether or not it returns as a nine bedded in patient unit or it becomes an alternative model. But the fact remains we have not got a safe, staffing, nursing workforce model to provide safe clinical care for patients.
“We cannot open these beds at this time on that premise.”
The conclusion of the report brought before the Integration Joint Board read: “Despite the enormous efforts of the Perth and Kinross Health and Social Care Partnership and NHS Tayside to ensure safe staffing, it was necessary to close Pitlochry Community Hospital GP Unit on 31st December 2021 as a temporary measure. As the staffing challenges in the rural areas of Perth & Kinross are long standing, it is now essential that a service model is developed that ensures the safe and sustainable delivery of intermediate care and rehabilitation services to the people of North Perthshire that embed exciting new models of care and parallel workforce models that are sustainable in the long term.”
Amanda Taylor, Service Manager of North Locality at NHS Tayside, explained, “We have posts out to advert. We currently have about a third of the staff needed to open the beds at the moment. They are looking at the possibility of opening up some of the beds to ensure this is clinically safe to do so, so they can do this work professionally.”
Only the nine inpatient beds at the GP Unit is currently affected. All other services at Pitlochry Community Hospital will remain open, including outpatient services, community care and treatment services and the integrated staffing hub, which also supports partners such as the Scottish Ambulance Service.
“They continue to actively recruit,” Devine confirmed at the meeting. “It is still a proactive hospital in relation to everything that goes on there.”
Xander McDade, independent councillor for the Highland ward of Perth and Kinross, commented on the staffing issues, saying, “Since 2018 when staffing issues were first experienced recruiting staff for the Minor Injuries Unit I have been working to try and increase the provision of affordable housing locally for key workers.
“The Health and Social Care Partnership leadership have gone to significant lengths to keep the hospital open including using temporary staff and providing short term accommodation. However, as the paper before the Board identified the housing availability and affordability has been the underlying issue for recruiting to Pitlochry Community Hospital for several years and in my view it is essential this is resolved for the long term future to be secured.
“My additional recommendation sought to ensure partners work together on this vital issue to ensure any redesign of services has the best chance of success.”
John Duff, Scottish Conservative and Unionist councillor for the Highland ward of Perth and Kinross, commented, “Without doubt, a key factor hindering a sustainable solution for Pitlochry Community Hospital has been the lack of affordable housing in the area for these essential workers. Nursing staff keen to work in Pitlochry are having difficulty finding places to stay in the long term.
“The recommendation today, which Councillor McDade and I put forward, identifies the requirement to solve the problem of accommodation if we are to have a long term solution to staffing at the hospital. Without it, there is a distinct likelihood that any new model would not be sustainable.”