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Winter crisis in NHS ‘deepening’ as new figures show continued decline

The government has been accused of letting the NHS crisis "spin out of control"

Scotland’s NHS is “slipping out of control”, after alarming official figures showed A&E waiting times are up to record levels and operations are being cancelled at the last minute more than ever before.

The latest worrying snapshot comes after we revealed the Scottish Government is considering asking students to fill gaps in the hospital workforce.

Soldiers were again drafted in to administer vaccines ahead of a winter which is predicted to be one of the most “difficult ever” for the country’s health service.

From summer, performance against the four-hour benchmark has dropped below 80% and has remained there for what Public Health Scotland called a “prolonged” period.

Nationally, 69.6% of attendances at A&E services were dealth with within four hours — well below the SNP’s own target of 95%.

Our A&E performances are not where I want it to be.

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf

A total of 1,948 patients spent more than eight hours in an A&E department in the last week, while 630 patients spent more than 12 hours in accident and emergency, figures show.

Addressing concerns at Holyrood after the figures were published, Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said the stats in Scotland were better than they were in England and Wales.

He said the NHS has been dealing with highter levels of attendance because of coronavirus.

Regional A&E performance

NHS Tayside, which before the pandemic celebrated the best A&E performance in Scotland, recorded its lowest target rate since records began in 2015, with 87% of patients being seen within four hours.

The Fife health board improved on its record low from the beginning of October, rising from 64.8% to 72%.

NHS Grampian dropped to its lowest ever result too, with 75% being seen within the four hour target.

In the Highlands, 83.8% of patients were seen within four hours.

Orkney, Shetland and Western Isles health boards were the only ones in Scotland to reach the 95% four hour target.

Cancelled operations

In Tayside and Fife, the number of cancelled operations in September due to “capacity or non-clinical reason” was below the national average.

In Grampian and Highland the figure was higher, with cancelled operations in Grampian because of “capacity or non-clinical reason” at almost the highest rate since emergency Covid measures were introduced in March 2020.

The total number of planned operations across NHS Scotland during September 2021 was 17,150 — a decrease of 16.5% from 20,531 in August 2021.

Bed blocking

Public Health Scotland recorded 48,436 days spent in hospital by people whose discharge was delayed in September this year, an increase of 47% compared with the number of delayed days in September 2020 (32,959).

Grampian, Tayside, Fife and Highland health boards all recorded an increase in delayed discharges.

Fife and Tayside both breached the 4000 day mark, with Tayside delayed discharges more than doubling since April this year.

‘Out of control’

Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said:  “The crisis in our NHS is still spinning out of control.

“We are at a critical moment for our NHS, but things are moving in the wrong direction.

“Delayed discharge is spiralling upwards because the SNP have failed to deal with the growing workforce crisis in social care.”

Jackie Baillie MSP.

She added: “Operations are falling at the very time we need to be playing catch up.

“We are headed towards a catastrophic winter but the SNP are asleep at the wheel.

“The Health Secretary must face up to the fact his plan isn’t working.
“We need fair pay for social care workers and real action to support the NHS before this chaos costs lives.”

‘Deepening crisis’

Scottish Conservative spokesman Dr Sandesh Gulhane said: “It’s clear Humza Yousaf is presiding over a crisis in our NHS that deepens with each passing week.

“These figures are a devastating indictment of his – and the SNP’s – stewardship of the health service.

“It’s disgraceful that fewer than 70 per cent of patients are being seen within four hours.

“These figures are further proof that the Humza Yousaf’s inadequate NHS recovery plan is not working. He must get a grip of this crisis now.”

Dr Sandesh Gulhane

He added: “Yesterday, he announced yet more support from UK armed forces for the A&E frontline. Their support is hugely appreciated but it’s not sufficient for an NHS at breaking point even before we’ve hit the peak winter period.”

‘Backlog growing’

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said the statistics show the scale of Covid’s impact.

Alex Cole-Hamilton

“NHS staff have worked around the clock to protect people from the virus and navigate the fallout of botched workforce planning that has left so many departments dreadfully short of staff,” he said.

“They deserve better than the Scottish Government’s flimsy NHS Recovery Plan.”

Investment being made

Following a statement to parliament on the Covid pandemic, Health Secretary Humza Yousaf addressed concerns on the “crisis”

He said: “Our A&E performances are not where I want it to be.”

But he told MSPs performance is highest in the UK.

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf

“That is not of any comfort to someone waiting 12 hours in an A&E department in Scotland, but is a demonstration of the fact these problems are shared across the UK and not just unique to Scotland,” he added.

“We have not sat around, we have invested an additional £40 million for our ambulance service and £300 million for our winter programme and the First Minister announced an additional £482 million in relation to the Covid pressures we are facing.

“I am announcing an additional £10 million in July and an additional £12 million to help health boards on the pressures they are facing.”

“I will continue to work hard with local health boards to do everything we possibly can, to leave no stone unturned and make sure every single tool we have in our armoury is deployed in the fight against this virus and what will be a very challenging winter.”