“Extreme waiting” times in Scotland’s NHS have been branded the “new normal” after accident and emergency departments posted the third worst results on record.
The Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, Alex Cole-Hamilton, hit out after new figures showed a small rise in the proportion of patients in A&E who were seen and subsequently discharged or admitted to hospital within the four-hour, target time.
The most recent data showed that in the week ending September 19, fewer than three quarters (74.4%) of patients were dealt with in this time – an increase from the record low of 71.5 that was recorded the previous week.
But this was still the third worst performance since weekly monitoring began, and well below the Scottish Government’s target of having 95% of patients in A&E dealt with within four hours.
Public Health Scotland data showed that of the 26,872 people who attended A&E in the week ending September 19, 1,413 were there for more than eight hours.
This included 341 patients who spent more than 12 hours there.
Tory health spokesman, Dr Sandesh Gulhane, responded: “Our A&E departments are still overwhelmed, and Scotland’s NHS would be much better served if (Health Secretary) Humza Yousaf focused on fixing the problems on the front line, instead of making sure he gets a photo op.”
With coronavirus continuing to put pressure on the NHS, the Scottish Government has already called in the help of both the army and firefighters to drive ambulances.
But with patients reported to have died while waiting for help to arrive, Mr Cole-Hamilton demanded an independent inquiry into “all unnecessary deaths connected to ambulance waiting times”.
The Scottish Liberal Democrat leader said: “Extreme waiting times in A&E seem to be the new normal in the eyes of the SNP Government.
“Every week, thousands of patients are suffering because emergency care has been eroded away by Government mismanagement.
“Winter is only just beginning but already huge volumes of people who are scared and in pain are struggling to be seen because of the bottleneck at the door of emergency care.”
He claimed morale within the NHS was now “at rock bottom” as he said “urgent recruitment drives” were needed to help services cope over the busy winter period.
Mr Cole-Hamilton demanded: “We need a full independent review into all unnecessary deaths connected to ambulance waiting times so that lessons can be learned, alongside urgent recruitment drives to help the service survive over the winter.”
Dr Gulhane said the length of time people were having to wait in A&E was “still very concerning” although he added that “people should see an improvement now that the UK armed forces have stepped in to help tackle the crisis in Scotland’s NHS”.
The Conservative MSP said: “That vital support from the British Army should help to alleviate the pressure on our ambulance service and A&E departments by extension.”
Despite this he said: “More urgency is still needed. We still need to see a full strategic plan for maximising the armed forces from Humza Yousaf.
“The SNP promised an NHS winter plan last week and we still haven’t seen it. The delays and lack of planning is costing Scotland’s NHS and piling the pressure on frontline staff.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The Covid pandemic has inevitably affected A&E attendance and the pressure is being felt across the UK.
“Our NHS staff have faced unprecedented pressures over recent weeks as they work tirelessly and consistently to respond to the pandemic whilst continuing to provide vital treatment and optimal patient care.”
As part of the NHS coronavirus recovery plan, the Scottish Government has earmarked £27 million for the redesign of urgent care services, in a bid to ensure people receive the right care, at the right place and avoid unnecessary hospital attendance.
The spokeswoman continued: “Weekly performance is impacted due to a range of challenges including high attendances, staffing pressures due to isolation and annual leave and the continued requirement for infection control precautions that is affecting the time people need to spend in A&E.
“This is combined with increased levels of people attending A&E who are much sicker and require higher levels of care.”
Health boards are being given £12 million for non-COVID emergency care, the spokeswoman added, saying this would allow for additional staff to be taken on.
And she said the Government was “working closely with those sites facing the greatest challenges to ensure rapid recovery plans are in place”.