General adult beds at New Craigs hospital in Inverness have been temporarily reduced from 48 to 42 due to a shortage of staff.
Recruitment has not kept pace with numbers of staff leaving and the hospital currently has 33 vacancies with 25 of those being registered mental health nurses.
Michael Perera, general manager for mental health services explained that nurse staffing levels in the mental health service of the Inner Moray Firth area have been under pressure since November 2016.
He said with gaps in the rota now happening on a daily basis the decision has been made to temporarily close these beds to “ensure a safe and effective service can be delivered”.
Mr Perera said: “There is a significant shortage across the UK of mental health nurses. Our efforts to recruit – which have included attending four recruitment fairs across the UK, adverts in national journals and recruitment websites – have been unsuccessful in attracting enough staff to meet the gaps that we have.
“In addition nine of our current establishment of trained mental health nurses have indicated their plans to retire this year.
“This has left us with a significant pressure within inpatient services and if we don’t act now the safe running of the hospital is at risk.
“General adult beds within the hospital have been temporarily reduced from 48 to 42 while we continue to look at all options available to us in terms of staffing and the current and future demands of the service.”
Measures currently being taken include safety huddles being held twice daily to look at distribution of the nursing resource within the hospital to ensure no ward is left unsafe.
Requests for cover from the nurse bank have been partially successful in securing cover for some of the staffing gaps and the bank is also being asked about availability of general nursing staff who would be able to assist within the hospital.
Recently retired mental health nurses are also being approached to see if they would be interested in coming back to work on a part-time basis.
Mental health nursing students have also been interviewed earlier than normal to try and persuade them to remain in the Highland area.
Starting next week social centre staff have been temporary redeployed to provide activities in ward areas and to support those needing enhanced levels of care and at mealtimes which will also release a small amount of nursing time.
Nursing agencies will also be approached to help fill gaps but this has proved unsuccessful in the past.
Mr Perera said: “We want to be able to provide a safe and effective service to our patients and with our current staffing levels we have had to reduce our bed numbers to match the available workforce.
“Nursing staff have been incredibly flexible and willing to work extra and this is greatly appreciated. Trade union representatives and senior clinical staff have been involved in examining all options to continue providing the service but this immediate measure is required.
“This will stabilise the hospital and allow more detailed planning to take place to configure the beds to meet current and future demands.”
Mr Perera added: “While this work is ongoing it may be that on the odd occasion patients are required to be admitted out of the Highland area during periods when we are at capacity.
“Evidence has shown that on the rare occasion this has happened in the past we are able to bring these patients back to Highland relatively quickly and we do not see this changing under the new measures.
“We are keeping staff and patient groups informed of these changes and will ensure everyone is kept up to date as the position changes.”