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Features / Health board responds to concern following the removal of beds from surgical unit

NHS SHETLAND has refuted suggestions that the health board had “axed” the number of beds in the Gilbert Bain Hospital following an announcement that the number of beds in the hospital’s surgical unit has been reduced from 20 to 13 following a pilot.

Shetland News received a raft of messages and comments following a story published on 12 April, disputing claims made by Professor Kathleen Carolan, the health board’s director for nursing and acute services.

These included experience from a local man whose grandmother who had to wait an additional three days before she could be transferred back to the Gilbert Bain from Aberdeen Royal Infirmary because, allegedly, there were no beds available.

Another reader raised the issue that there are no intensive care beds in the Gilbert Bain which, in her case, led to the untimely death of her father following a heart attack, as he was too ill to travel to the nearest ICU in Aberdeen.

Professor Carolan however said that since the closure of the surgical beds this month, the hospital has maintained bed availability for new admissions between seven and 10 beds each day.

“If we need to open more beds due to a temporary increase in admissions, we will put our business continuity plans in place to support that and beds on the hospital site,” she said.

NHS Shetland director of nursing and acute services Kathleen Carolan.

Professor Carolan added that removing some of the beds on the surgical ward is giving the hospitalmore flexible space, so patients should find they are moved around less to accommodate their needs.

“We are actively offering same day surgery, so more patients will be admitted to the Day Surgical Unit and discharged the same day, bypassing the inpatient wards,” she said.

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“We are also actively supporting people to have a short length of stay in hospital where it is safe to do so because the evidence shows that prolonged admissions increase risks, particularly for older people.

“There are times when patients need to wait for a bed to become available, and that is often because they need a single occupancy room to support their care needs and/or specific types of monitoring.

“The changes to the surgical ward have not reduced our ability to provide high dependency care for patients who need it, but it is important to point out that we do not have the means in our island general hospital to provide intensive care.”

Professor Carolan added that the health board’s focus was on providing emergency medical response.

“If a patient needs intensive care or prolonged high dependency care, then we will work with the Scottish Ambulance Service and the air ambulance retrieval teams to ensure that we can transfer the patient to a specialist unit in Scotland,” the NHS director said.

“Over the last 10 years we have seen many changes in the way in which we provide health and care in Shetland, including new surgical techniques and sedation, which reduces length of stay, as well as more care that can be provided in the community.

“The Gilbert Bain Hospital plays as important a role as ever in the community and the closure of the beds represents new ways of working and not a decline in the importance or function of the hospital in delivering healthcare in Shetland.”

Professor Carolan added that anyone with concerns about the care delivered at the Gilbert Bain Hospital should get in touch with NHS Shetland via   


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