AN investigation has been demanded into claims hospital chiefs tried to trick government inspectors by moving staff to frontline nursing roles.
Midwives, operating theatre staff and elderly carers were redeployed to an overstretched admissions ward at Victoria Hospital, Kirkcaldy, Fife, the same day as the inspection, according to whistleblowers.
It is claimed the redeployment created a false impression of smooth-running at the hospital, which has been the subject of numerous allegations about inadequate standards of patient care.
Critics have condemned the shuffling of staff as a “wholly inappropriate deception” and the Scottish Tories last night called for a full investigation.
NHS Fife admitted staff were moved on the day of the inspection, February 18, describing it as “routine practice”.
But the Scottish Government said it was seeking assurances from NHS Fife about what happened, adding that any behaviour of this kind “would be completely unacceptable”.
A staff nurse at the Victoria, who asked not to be named, said the staff who were moved to frontline duties on February 18 were qualified to do the job.
She said: “And whilst [they] were here the admissions ward ran like clockwork.
“But that’s what it should be like at all times – not just when the Government come in.”
David Forbes, Unison Scotland regional organiser for Fife Health branch, said the hospital’s actions were “wholly inappropriate”.
He said: “We understand…that nursing staff from other areas were expected to move in order to give the impression of full staffing complement to visiting Scottish Government officials.
“It is not clear whether this could have directly caused any problem for patient care.
“However it is wholly inappropriate that such a deception should have been organised in order to make things look better than they are for a visit by Scottish Government officials.
“Unison is working with NHS Fife to improve the real situation at Victoria Hospital and to recruit more staff.
“But the fundamental problem remains the fact that there are simply not enough beds to meet need – and this is a direct result of the hospital extension having been funded through a costly and inefficient Private Finance Initiative.”
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said a proper investigation should be carried out by the Government following the allegations.
“We know that health boards are facing tremendous staffing pressures, with almost 2,000 less nurses and midwives under the SNP.
“But with hundreds of posts lying empty for more than three months, there is no sign of relief anytime soon for hardworking NHS staff.
“After the waiting times scandal, any suggestion that health boards are trying to hoodwink inspectors over staffing levels must be fully investigated.
“It would be simply unacceptable if vital staff are being moved from other departments to shore up shortages in other areas.
“The Health Secretary has demanded total transparency within the NHS and he has to ensure this happens.”
Margaret Watt, of Scottish Patients Association, said: “If this is indeed true then I am completely appalled.
“It is very bad. If they had left it the way it was then the Government could have seen the real picture.
“They are out of step with the rest us who are championing for extra nursing staff.
“The next thing they will bring in porters or administration staff and dress them up as nurses.
“It is a ridiculous decision for them to make, I think it’s as bad as massaging figures and whoever did this should go.”
The Victoria has faced numerous complaints from patients since it opened its new wing last year.
In March last year, it was revealed more than 100 complaints had been received in the few months it had been open.
Last month a distraught husband claimed staff had failed to diagnose his 51-year-old wife’s ruptured bowel. Cecilia Fisher, from Cowdenbeath, was sent home but had to be readmitted four days later and died following emergency surgery.
A 25-year-old Scots mum was forced to give birth on the frozen pavement outside the hospital in February last year after nurses failed to answer the door buzzer for several minutes.
And in another incident, an elderly one-legged heart surgery patient was also abandoned in a toilet by staff at the same hospital wing for several hours.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said if the allegations about deceiving inspectors were true it would be “completely unacceptable.”
She said: “It is the responsibility of NHS boards to ensure that they have appropriate staffing levels in order to ensure the safety and quality of care for patients is maintained.
“We have sought assurances from NHS Fife around this issue and we are clear that any behaviour of this kind would be completely unacceptable.”
George Cunningham, director of acute services, said: “NHS Fife absolutely refutes the allegation that staff were asked to lie during a visit from Scottish Government colleagues to Victoria Hospital.
“We have previously acknowledged that winter capacity demands have placed significant pressure on the system.
“It is routine practice for suitably trained and qualified staff from areas where demand, at that time, is identified as being low to be redeployed for a short time to assist colleagues in areas experiencing significant pressure to ensure that appropriate staffing levels are maintained.
“Where we move staff from one area to another this is done in an open and transparent way.
“It is good practice to prioritise our deployment of nursing staff to areas of greatest need for patient care.
“Our staff are our most important and valued asset and we recognise that they have faced pressures.
“Any concerns raised are being worked through in partnership with our employee director, who represents staff on the board of NHS Fife and is chairman of the staff side of the area partnership forum.
“We would encourage staff members to approach us directly with any concerns.”
Anne Buchanan, board nurse director, said: “The improvement work that we are currently undertaking is designed to address and improve both the patient and the staff experience, with the feedback and involvement of staff vital in delivering this improvement.
“As part of the actions already taken, five additional registered nurses have been recruited for Admissions Unit 1.”