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Chalmers Hospital - vital to Banff

By Alistair Whitfield

Banff and an extensive surrounding area has been served by Chalmers Hospital since it opened in 1864.

It is a wonderful asset and facility for the local community.

It offers casualty and minor injuries treatment, including X-ray facilities; in-patient care; GP minor surgery; and a raft of out-patient clinics.

Everyone will be aware that the hospital was quite recently extensively modernised and a brand new additional unit added. This serves not only Banff and Macduff, but also a significant surrounding rural area with limited public transport.

The ongoing review of minor injuries units in the North-east of Scotland has wrongly led some members of the pubic to think that Chalmers Hospital is to be run down or closed or, even worse, that it has already been closed and there is no longer a casualty unit in the town.

So, it is important to correct this misunderstanding, since there is otherwise the risk that numbers using the facility will fall and that this will be used to justify a reduction in services as part of a cost cutting exercise, and deprive our community of vital health services.

It is really important that residents of Banff and its surrounding communities should understand how any reduction in the current services would adversely affect them and their families and friends.

It may not be widely known that nearly thirty regular out-patient clinics are currently held in Chalmers Hospital.

These include care for the elderly, dietetics, endoscopy, gynaecology, orthopaedics, physiotherapy, psychiatry, occupational therapy, podiatry, respiratory and speech therapy.

Sadly, the ophthalmology or eye clinic has been discontinued without adequate explanation, and the concern is that others might follow.

Peter Johnston of the Friend of Chalmers Hospital in Banff
Peter Johnston of the Friend of Chalmers Hospital in Banff

On the good news front, there is a highly effective renal (kidney) dialysis unit, recently re-equipped with seven of the latest state of the art machines and it is hoped that this unit can be extended.

Patients in this unit typically spend some hours connected to these life-saving machines and have the option of single room accommodation or a place in the larger ward space.

If this unit did not exist, they would be faced with hours of travel to and from Aberdeen or Elgin in addition to the time spent on the dialysis machines.

So the benefits of this local facility are easy to understand and are highly prized by the patients concerned.

The X-ray facility includes the latest ultrasound scanning equipment, provided by Friends of Chalmers Hospital, which currently enables more than 120 scans every month.

In most cases, the scans, which are a very important aid to diagnosis of potentially serious medical conditions, take only fifteen or twenty minutes. Appointments are carefully timed and waiting times are typically very short.

The additional benefit of this facility in reducing the long waiting times in Aberdeen and Elgin hospitals is obvious. Because Chalmers Hospital offers this service, patients are saved from hours of travel to attend a very short appointment.

People who have used the out-patient clinics and other services at Chalmers Hospital understand just how important and welcome they are.

Instead of having to find their way to Aberdeen or Elgin, they are able to obtain treatment locally, thus avoiding stress and expense.

This benefits all patients, whether they are younger people in employment or self-employed, mothers with children or the elderly.

It is not always realised how difficult it is for people, who live alone with few or no relatives nearby and do not have access to their own transport, to travel to Aberdeen or Elgin for treatment.

It can be bad enough for those living in Banff or Macduff, but it is even more challenging for those living in outlying areas, particularly in the winter months.

While it is fair to say that there is a reasonably regular and reliable public transport service by road from Banff and Macduff to both locations, patients attending Aberdeen Royal Infirmary (ARI) often find that there is no room for them on the return trip, as the buses from the hospital also serve hospital staff and visitors within the city.

Getting to a bus stop and waiting for the bus can be tedious enough for people in good health, but the experience can be very stressful and even harmful to people who are frail or otherwise in ill health, which is, of course, why they are attending hospital in the first place.

The key benefit of all clinics in Chalmers Hospital is that top flight consultants and other experienced health professionals are bringing medical, surgical and other treatments to the community, rather than requiring patients to travel to distant regional hospitals.

This is in line with the new approach recently announced in England and Wales and is greatly to be encouraged. It would be disappointing if Scotland did not at least keep abreast of this new and welcome approach to health care.

There is now compulsive scientific evidence that city dwellers are likely to be less healthy than their country cousins and more prone to major illnesses, as a result of air pollution.

As such, they are obviously, through no fault of their own, a greater drain on medical services.

This partly explains the huge pressures on city based hospitals and argues for those pressures to be reduced by maximum use of district hospitals, such as Chalmers Hospital.

Additionally, timely treatment at local level will reduce episodes of subsequent acute illness and consequential pressure on an already overburdened Scottish Ambulance Service.

On this theme, the modern, well equipped in-patient ward of Chalmers Hospital is of great benefit. It provides care for patients near their home and family in a small, friendly hospital environment. There is a common room and a sensory garden for their use.

Visiting hours are generous and relaxed and it is naturally much easier for relatives and friends to make regular visits. Additional furnishings, artwork, TV sets and Christmas decorations have been provided by the Friends of Chalmers Hospital.

To give one example, a cancer patient or a person with some other serious illness, who has been in ARI for necessary treatment, can be transferred to Chalmers Hospital, where his or her family and friends can easily visit and provide company and reassurance that could not be given, if they had to travel in and out of Aberdeen on Elgin on a daily basis, even assuming that they had the money and transport to enable this. So, it is difficult to overstate the benefits of this facility to those who are typically in a highly stressful and distressing situation.

It is currently disappointing that around half of the beds of the in-patient ward at Chalmers Hospital are unoccupied. This is not in any way because there is low demand for beds – indeed the contrary is painfully true in all hospitals. It arises from shortages of nursing staff.

To address this, there should be scope for a review by NHS Grampian of existing policy, to enable more nursing staff to enjoy the alternative reduced hours or part time work, which is open to GP’s and which allows for a work/life balance, with leisure time and engagement with family and friends. This might well go towards addressing the current recruitment problem.

It is, of course, recognised that there is a serious recruitment deficit across the National Health Service in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK.

This said, it seems very likely that suitably qualified nurses would be much more likely to return to their profession if they were offered greater flexibility in working hours.

Many would welcome additional income at a time when there is some economic hardship and financial uncertainty and the option of reduced hours might well attract some who have felt unable to work the very long hours previously required.

Chalmers Hospital is of particular value and importance to a community, which is as far, or further from the main hospitals as most country towns in the North-east.

It offers an immediate contribution to shortage of beds in Aberdeen and Elgin and could do more, if staff shortages were energetically and intelligently addressed.

It also provides out-patient treatment to relieve the burden on regional hospitals and could assist further, if the ophthalmic (eye) clinics, recently withdrawn by NHS Grampian, were re-instituted.

Recent media attention has focussed on the increasing problem of rationing of treatment of cataracts, which seriously reduces quality of life, not just in the elderly.

As mentioned above, it is unfortunate that our community should be deprived on the top level skills of the ophthalmic surgeon, who previously ran clinics at Chalmers.

This is particularly poignant, since very expensive equipment, purchased by Friends of Chalmers Hospital for use in that clinic, is now lying unused and waiting for the return of the ophthalmic consultant who requested the charity to purchase the equipment and used it to great effect.

Friends of Chalmers Hospital is fortunate in having significant funds available for the purchase of medical and other equipment and furnishings for Chalmers Hospital.

It has benefited from numerous donations by grateful patients and their families and, in recent years, has spent well over £100,000 in this way.

The charity remains well-resourced and ready to continue a programme of upgrading and improvement in support of NHS Grampian.

It is crucially important that members of the public recognise the huge value of Chalmers Hospital and acknowledge the sterling work of nursing and other medical professionals there and that they let all concerned know that they want medicine to be brought to their community and optimum use to be made of the hospital, as part of this drive.

Please, make your support known by voicing it at the drop-in session to be held in the Harvest Centre, Castle Street, Banff on Wednesday, May 1 between 3pm and 7 pm.

Peter W Johnston



Honorary Treasurer.

Friends of Chalmers Hospital

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