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Concerns raised over permanent closure of Aberdeenshire dementia ward

By Kyle Ritchie

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Concerns have been raised after a decision has been made to permanently shut an Aberdeenshire dementia ward.

The Scolty Ward at Glen O'Dee Hospital in Banchory focused on psychiatric care of the elderly, particularly on dementia assessment.

It has been temporarily closed since October 2022 and it has been confirmed it will now not reopen due to staff shortages.

The Scolty Ward at Glen O'Dee Hospital in Banchory is to permanently close.
The Scolty Ward at Glen O'Dee Hospital in Banchory is to permanently close.

In a briefing update from the Aberdeenshire Health and Social Care Partnership, which was received by Aberdeenshire West MSP Alexander Burnett, it said: "As you are already aware Scolty Ward has been temporarily closed since October 2022 with staff from the ward re-deployed to support our other two Deeside wards and to increase support to the Older Adult Community Mental Health Team.

"With the addition of the staff from Scolty we have been able to increase our beds at Morven, going from eight to 16 with a further two ‘surge beds’ (only utilised when there is exceptional pressure).

"At present we have 14 beds at Aboyne which is an increase of four from our previous base. This means that we have 30 community hospital beds available across Deeside with a further two surge beds.

"The staffing situation with both these wards remains stable. We have also been able to support our Community Mental Health Team more effectively by allowing the team to increase staff capacity and skills and support more people to remain at home.

"As you know we have been working to look at what staffing we require to safely reopen and continue to deliver a Dementia Assessment in-patient ward at Scolty.

"As part of that work, we looked at the requirements of the Health and Care (staffing) (Scotland) Act 2019 which will be enacted in April 2024.

"Implementation of the Act will require us to have, at a minimum, one Registered Mental Health Nurse (RMN) and one Registered Nurse (RN) on each shift but preferably two RMNs.

"A risk of not having adequate RMN nursing cover is that of illegal detention, should a patient become acutely distressed and wish to leave the ward environment.

"Registered Nurses are unable to use Section 299 of The Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 1995 (nurse’s holding power) and only RMNs can use this act.

"To put this into context we currently have two RMNs and one RN available for work from the Scolty Team and we require a minimum of 10.42 full-time equivalent nurses, plus a senior charge nurse.

"As you know recruitment to our wards and our wider community teams can be difficult in our area and we have been absolutely delighted to welcome some new nursing recruits to our other Deeside Wards.

"However, there is a recognised national shortage of qualified Registered Mental Health Nurses which is impacting negatively upon us.

"This means that we have been unable to secure new RMNs for the area and this makes it particularly challenging to provide safe and compliant care at Scolty ward.

"The staffing challenges also need to be considered in the context of the other Deeside Wards. Even if we managed to recruit additional registered mental health nurses removing the members of Scolty Team currently working at Morven Ward would result in a destabilisation of the staffing to cover that ward.

"We have also undertaken a piece of work around data looking at where former Scolty patients were normally resident and who their admitting GP was.

"This has thrown up some interesting data which shows that Scolty Ward had almost an equal number of patients admitted from Kincardine and Mearns (37 per cent) than from Marr (39 per cent) and 24 per cent of admissions were out of area.

"This suggests that opportunities can be sought in a wide area of South Aberdeenshire and that more flexibility of resource may be helpful in providing services for people with dementia in their local communities.

"There is an opportunity here to provide creative and flexible solutions to support people with dementia at all stages to remain living in their local communities using the resource and expertise available from Scolty Ward.

"We intend to continue to develop that work and will engage with staff, current and former patients, and service users along with their families to look at how we deliver a range fit for purpose and future proof dementia care."

MSP for Aberdeenshire West Alexander Burnett said: “The permanent closure of the Scolty Ward is a blow to the community who were hoping a solution could be found to enable it to reopen.

“Facilities like this provide vital support for older people with dementia who should be treated as close to home as possible to minimise upheaval and a change in their lives.

“This announcement reflects the difficulty NHS Grampian is facing in employing mental health staff which is resulting in a growing number of community hospitals closing in the north-east.

“While I know staff across Deeside are going above and beyond to provide the best care possible for patients, the Scottish Government has a duty to prevent mental health wards from closures like these.”

Councillor for Banchory and Mid Deeside Ann Ross said: “The announcement that the Scolty Ward will be closed permanently is very disappointing for the community.

“I have long campaigned for the ward to reopen which would have allowed families to have their loved ones treated locally in Banchory.

“Centralising and closing inpatient dementia treatment is incredibly damaging to patients and their families.

“The Scottish Government and NHS Grampian must work together to overcome these recruitment struggles within mental health to ensure patient care in Aberdeenshire isn’t at a disadvantage compared to other parts of the country.”

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