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North health boss apologises over 'unsatisfactory' number of Caithness patients admitted to Inverness psychiatric hospital

By Gordon Calder

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A HIGHLAND health boss has apologised for the number of Caithness patients who were admitted to New Craigs psychiatric hospital in Inverness over a 12-month period and described the situation as "unsatisfactory."

Pam Dudek, the chief executive of NHS Highland, made the apology in a letter to north MSP, Rhoda Grant, and said options are being explored to address the problem.

Pam Dudek has apologised for the increased admission of Caithness patients to New Craigs. Picture: Gary Anthony.
Pam Dudek has apologised for the increased admission of Caithness patients to New Craigs. Picture: Gary Anthony.

Mrs Grant, the Labour MSP for the Highlands and Islands, called for action after a "very worrying" increase in the admissions to New Craigs from Caithness. She hit out after figures showed a rise of over 50 per cent between 2019 and 2020. The increase contrasts with slight rises or falls in other areas of the Highlands.

The statistics, which were obtained by a local man following a Freedom of Information request, revealed the number of Caithness people admitted to the hospital went up from 26 to 42 in that year. In Easter Ross, the figure dropped from 30 to 29 and from 12 to 9 in Badenoch and Strathspey. There was an increase in Inverness from 177 to 180 and from 26 to 27 in Lochaber.

Mrs Dudek said "the level of service has not been what we would want it to be and may have impacted on the type of service received."

She acknowledged the the number of changes over recent years including "a variety of locum cover and the contingency plans that were put in place in the absence of a locum will have impacted upon the level of direct access to psychiatrist support."

Mrs Dudek apologised for that and said the health authority has "an established locum psychiatrist who is committed to working with us while we explore options for long-term recruitment." However, she stressed that the wider multidisciplinary teams always aim to provide responsive services to the local population.

Mrs Grant is "heartened" the health authority recognised the problem and is committed to looking at recruitment options.

"On this point, I have written to the Health Secretary, Humza Yousaf, asking if the Scottish Government could investigate a rural and remote enhanced payment for such hard to fill permanent jobs to attract more professionals and to acknowledge the challenges of rural postings," she said.

Bill Fernie, the chairman of the Caithness Heath Action Team, is also pleased NHS Highland has acknowledged what he described as "a huge problem".

"It has been going on for years but seems to have got worse in the last couple of years and it does not look like we will get out of this situation in the near future. I think the Scottish Government needs to get involved and tackle it as it is a national problem and a very serious one which has been exacerbated by the coronavirus," he said.

Mr Fernie would like to see funding being made available to help with the training of psychiatrists and consultants.

The man, who lodged the Freedom of Information request and who wants to remains anonymous, said: "Is it really any wonder the number of admissions into New Craig’s has spiked when Caithness had five locum psychiatrists last year and many months of no cover at all.

"When you also take into account the rising suicide rate, it is clear that patients aren’t getting timely access to treatment especially when in crisis.We desperately need stability, which is non-existent at present."

He added: "Patients are imploring managers and politicians to stop centralising services which is a barrier because many patients can’t or won’t travel over a 200 mile round trip for mentally draining treatment.

"We need services available locally and in a timely fashion and that will help the amazing clinicians we do have."

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