The issue of five beds in a ward designed for only four was first highlighted last October by The Falkirk Herald after being contacted by staff unhappy at the move.
Healthcare Improvement Scotland found that patients experienced a “lack of privacy and dignity” because of the policy.
Inspectors made an unannounced visit to the Larbert Hospital in April where they found most wards had additional beds to cope with the increased demand.
They also raised concerns about some locked ward doors.
At that time, FVRH met the criteria for ‘black status’ which is the Scottish Government’s highest risk level and NHS Forth Valley was experiencing increased patient numbers, additional delayed discharges and high levels of staff absence.
The HIS report said that patients in wards where extra beds had been introduced did not always have access to the same facilities such as televisions, call bells, space and curtain screens which "sometimes resulted in a lack of privacy and dignity".
Inspectors also raised a serious concern around the use of treatment rooms as non-standard care areas for in-patients.
Last October, an experienced nurse highlighted similar concerns, saying: "Patients are getting no privacy in these rooms. They are designed for four people with four beds, chairs, curtains, and most importantly four oxygen portals and call buzzers.
"They are even giving the people in the extra beds door bells to call for staff.
"It’s absolutely shocking.”
In August 2021 one patient told of being in three different wards in as many days before finally being placed in a treatment room.
Iona Macaulay, 73, said: "I can’t blame the staff, they were only doing their job, but it’s an absolutely shocking way to treat people who are sick.
"There’s serious problems in this hospital if they don’t have enough room for everyone who needs it.”
Donna Maclean, HIS head of service, said: “During our inspection, we saw many good interactions between staff and patients, and observed examples of good team work and communication. There were also positive comments made by patients about the staff who provided their care.
”During our inspection, we escalated a number of serious concerns to NHS Forth Valley through our escalation process, some of these concerns included ward doors within the hospital being locked, without the process within the Board’s own locked door policy being followed.
"Another concern related to patients being placed in additional beds and non-standard care areas to accommodate increased patient numbers. The additional beds and non-standard care areas raised a number of concerns such as: lack of accessibility for cleaning, patient placement, access in an emergency, and patient privacy and patient dignity.
“Some staff we spoke with shared their concerns and feelings of being overwhelmed, particularly in relation to the additional beds and workload and they expressed feelings of frustration at staffing levels.
“In order to prioritise the requirements from this inspection, an action plan has been developed by NHS Forth Valley.”
Cathie Cowan, NHS Forth Valley chief executive, said: “This inspection took place at the beginning of April 2022 during a period of unprecedented demand combined with high levels of staff absences due to Covid-19.
“Like, hospitals across the country, we had to open extra beds to create additional capacity while managing significant staff shortages.
“We recognise that the use of contingency areas is not ideal, however local staff across the hospital continued to deliver high standards of clinical care and treatment in very challenging circumstances.
“The inspectors also highlighted the positive and caring interactions they saw between staff and patients, good team working and efforts to ensure additional staff were distributed to areas with the greatest needs.
“The majority of the report recommendations have already been addressed, in many cases on the same day of the visit, and we will ensure all are fully implemented.”
View the full inspection report here