A&E patients 'queuing at the door' over Christmas as NHS Lothian struggling to improve waiting times

Health chiefs have warned that A&E departments across Edinburgh and the Lothians struggled to cope with the number of patients who turned up at the door during the festive period warning that “overcrowding was evident”.

Thursday, 9th January 2020, 6:00 am
Concerns have been raised over failures to meet waiting times for cancer treatment and A&E at NHS Lothian

The news comes as it was revealed that more people are having to wait longer than four hour at emergency departments across Edinburgh and the Lothians than last year – despite the Scottish Government demanding improvements after placing the health board in special measures.

Ninety-five per cent of patients that turn up at emergency departments at NHS Lothian are expected to be seen within four hours – but in December, only 80 per cent were dealt with on time – compared to 85 per cent last year. During the 2018 festive period, 368 patients had to wait at least eight hours at A&E – but this rocketed to 912 this time around.

A report drawn up for the NHS Lothian board highlights that the four-hour waiting times are “still significantly below government targets”. In November 2019, 81.5 per cent of patients were seen within four hours, a drop from 86.4 per cent in the previous month and 89.2 per cent in October 2018.

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NHS Lothian’s deputy chief executive, Jim Crombie, highlighted the problems facing A&E departments over the festive period – telling the organisation’s board that “we had queues in the morning across the department” and that “overcrowding was evident during that period”.

He added: “We saw a reduction in our ability to discharge in that period. The picture across the board is an acute system that’s under duress.

“We are clearly seeing issues of queues and overcrowding at our front doors.”

The report adds that a failure to improve 62-day cancer treatment waiting lists have been hindered by the “absence of a urology surgeon due to sickness”. Against a 95 per cent target, NHS Lothian only achieved an 80.8 per cent success rate in November 2019.

Pete Lock, NHS Lothian’s director of improvement, said: “There’s quite a lot of work ongoing behind the scenes to reduce that cancer treatment backlog.

“We have been working on a weekly basis with the Scottish Government to gradually work through that backlog.”

Delayed discharge, a problem that has plagued NHS Lothian over recent months, has improved. October 2018 saw 379 delayed discharges at NHS Lothian, but there was a significant reduction to 242 in October 2019 with it reduced further to 228 in November 2019.

Conservatives have pointed the finger for the failures at the Scottish Government with NHS Lothian the lowest funded health board across Scotland – at £1,710 per head of population against a Scotland average of £2,471.

Tory Lothian MSP, Miles Briggs, said: “The lack of progress for cancer waiting times is especially concerning, because early diagnosis and treatment significantly increases a patients chances of survival.

“It is patients across Lothian who are suffering due to SNP ministers failures to improve waiting times, despite record levels of investment from the UK government.”

He added: “NHS Lothian receives the lowest funding per head of population of any health board and the fiasco building the new hospital for sick children has added to the financial pressures the board is facing.

“SNP ministers’ inability to implement a proper workforce plan has left health boards understaffed and struggling to meet the increased demand on services.”

Tim Davison, NHS Lothian’s chief executive told the board that if one part of the process in getting people in and out of care is held up, it can quickly create a backlog.

He added: “In Scotland, it is the biggest centres that are performing the poorest and the smallest ones are performing the best. My fear is we don’t have enough capacity and we don’t have enough beds.”

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