Health Board chief tackling outpatient appointment issues

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Ending the nightmare of outpatients travelling 150 miles to Dumfries for hospital appointments will be a priority.

That was the message this week from NHS Dumfries and Galloway’s Chief Executive.

Jeff Ace was asked to update elected members and the public of progress with key NHS services in the west of the region at a meeting this week.

The health board boss was previously asked to investigate why patients from the west could not be seen at the Galloway Community Hospital instead of DGRI. When Mr Ace’s staff reviewed the booking system, they discovered 6500 Dumfries appointments that could have been taken at GCH. Since then, outpatients postcodes will be noted by staff in charge of the bookings, and if possible, they will be seen at the nearest hospital.

Some of the bias towards DGRI was linked to performance indicators that record how long patients have to wait before being seen by a consultant. Staff were previously making sure that the Dumfries hospital kept within waiting time guidelines issued by the Scottish Government. But now, getting an appointment at the GCH may mean patients might have to wait longer, but not travel so far.

After two damning reports on the GCH after inspections in December and January, Mr Ace said that the “buck had stopped on his desk” and he apologised to the public admitting he was embarrassed that the inspections had pointed out problems that the board were unaware of.

But he denied that the care of patients or the morale of staff were issues. He said of the GCH: “This is a great hospital with great care being provided”. The issues highlighted were with training and management. The were also plans to end the time consuming and unnecessary mountains of paperwork involved in dealing with each patient.

Mr Ace concluded: “We are not trying to shirk responsibility. Throughout the inspection process we haven’t tried to point the finger at anyone else.”

Other areas tackled during the meeting were improving staff training, recruitment and patient transport.

Improving training was a challenge, said Mr Ace, partly because of the transitory nature of the medical workforce, particularly the use of locums at GCH, which did not help the team-bonding process necessary for development.

Mr Ace said: “How do we make Dumfries and Galloway and Wigtownshire in particular and exemplar for training? To attract recruits we need to stand out against other heath boards, on both side of the border. We need to get key medical staff in place and then get training underway.”

Patient transport was also being scrutinised with the health chief admitting stories of late night discharges and patients on crutches forced to travel home on buses were unacceptable.

“We must do better than this” he admitted.