LOTHIAN hospitals will receive £1.2m of funding to prepare for the colder months amid concerns that the NHS is heading for winter meltdown.
Poor weather and seasonal increases in illnesses such as flu heap pressure on hospital wards in winter, while bed blocking presents a major challenge to meeting NHS targets.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced a £9 million funding boost for Scots health boards - including £1.2m for Lothian - to curb unnecessary hospital admissions, improve staffing cover, providing treatment in the community and making sure patients can be discharged at weekends.
Union leaders questioned why the Lothian funding was slashed from £1.8 million last year in the face of growing pressure on services, including lengthy waiting lists and an ongoing bed blocking crisis.
Tom Waterson, Lothian branch chair for Unison, said: “Any extra funding is welcome, although it is disappointing that NHS Lothian is receiving less than last year.
“We believe that there should be more funding for step down facilities to prevent delayed discharge in acute hospitals, so closing beds at Liberton Hospital and bringing in beds from East Lothian is not going to help.
“The beds crisis happens all the year round now.”
Nursing leaders called for a change to the way services are delivered as persistent staffing issues place further strain on the service.
Theresa Fyffe, RCN Scotland director, said: “While health boards in Scotland will be grateful for any financial support they can get to meet the pressures they are facing, this doesn’t mean problems are going to disappear.
“Pumping money into services every winter barely provides a short-term fix for the problem.”
Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “The NHS has been under winter strain during the summer months. There is now a real concern that A&E units could be thrown back to square one this winter as demand naturally increases.
“A&E services wouldn’t need these annual bailouts if the Scottish Government had got a grip of the staffing crisis, properly supported doctors and nurses and provided solid funding for the NHS in the first place.”
The First Minister made the announcement while visiting the Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) unit at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary (ERI), where staff have freed up nearly 3,000 bed days since 2012 by preventing unnecessary admissions.
She said: “A&E attendances last winter increased, yet emergency departments consistently improved their performance.
“The additional £9 million for this year will ensure patients get the best treatment in the most appropriate place, easing pressure on our A&E departments and maximising patient flows within hospitals which face additional admission demands in winter.
“With more and more people now living with long term conditions, and a growing number of older people with multiple and complex conditions, it is also vital that the NHS has robust preventative care plans.”