Western Isles Hospital in Stornoway has been forced to make use of contingency beds as it struggles to cope with capacity issues.
The hospital has also had to call on additional staff to cope with caring for delayed discharge patients, as well as the normal demands on the service during the winter.
Recent occupancy at the Western Isles Hospital has ranged between 80% and 100%.
A spokesperson for NHS Western Isles said: “There is an ongoing pressure on hospital beds, mainly as a result of delayed discharge patients, who require home care packages or care home places, occupying acute beds.”
They added: “The main risk associated with the number of beds being occupied by delayed discharge patients is that planned procedures would have to be cancelled if beds were unavailable.
“The worst case scenario would be that emergency patients requiring admission to hospital would have to be transferred to the mainland.
Last March the Gazette highlighted the problem of elderly patients who were unable to be discharged even though they no longer needed treatment, at the time the problem was described as ‘ongoing and increasing’.
According to statistics at that time the Islands had the highest rate of delayed discharges from hospital anywhere in Scotland, and at the Western Isles Hospital this meant 25 of its 71 acute beds - or a third of its capacity - were occupied by patients who no longer required hospital care.
This week a health authority spokesperson revealed: “Demand has increased with up to 40 per cent of acute beds being occupied by patients who were medically fit to be discharged, over the holiday period.”
Asked what the health authority is doing to manage and relieve the situation the spokesperson answered: “The health board and council continue to work together to prevent any unnecessary hospital admissions and to look at new ways of providing support for discharge.
“However, the provision of social care packages and care home places remains a significant challenge.
“Looking ahead, it remains to be seen the impact that more joint working between health and social care will have on these shortages.”
But it seems there may be light at the end of this tunnel as Western Isles Council confirmed this week that additional respite beds have been commissioned, a spokesperson explained: “The Comhairle and NHS Western Isles meet on a weekly basis to discuss priorities regarding the management of delayed discharges.
“In terms of relieving the situation the Health and Social Care Committee is in the process of commissioning an additional 12 respite beds. Ten in Lewis, one in Harris and one in Uist which was considered and approved at the end of last year.
“The target is to minimise delayed discharges but there are significant demographic and financial pressures facing the Health and Social Care Partnership.”
They continued: “This is a national issue facing Local Authorities and Health Boards across Scotland, particularly in relation to the demographic situation leading to a significant increase in the number of older people requiring care and support in the Outer Hebrides.
“As the Health and Social Care Integration process moves forward every opportunity will be explored, including the replacement options for Dun Berisay and Dun Eisdean Care Homes for which a sum of money has been set aside to undertake a review of future Care and Housing Support needs in Lewis.”