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Patients were urged this week not to attend A&E unless their condition is life-threatening, with health bosses citing 'extreme pressure' on services.
The call has sparked fears of a deepening crisis, with one politician claiming its a “sticking plaster” that puts people at risk while many are still struggling to get GP appointments.
It comes amid reports of patients having been forced to wait 40 hours to be seen at the A&E department at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary (ERI).
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Staff at the city’s largest hospital claimed over 80 people were waiting to be admitted to wards during the night on Tuesday.
Ian Murray, Labour MSP said some were waiting more than a day and a half and demanded a “proper NHS catch up plan" addressing the issues.
Unions recently told the Evening News that the emergency department at Edinburgh's largest hospital was seeing admissions of three times its capacity a day, causing patients to be left on trolleys for hours.
Bosses have urged everyone to play their part to stem the crisis, caused by staffing and bed pressures and compounded by large numbers of patients presenting with complex and serious cases.
Calum Campbell, chief executive of NHS Lothian, said a request has been submitted for mutual aid from other health boards after services became caught in the grip of a “perfect storm”.
But Lothians MSP Foysol Choudhury MBE said telling people to stay away was not the answer and could leave people feeling they have nowhere to turn.
The Labour MSP said: “Patients in the Lothians are being put in danger due to the catastrophic failure to support A&E services.
“Lives are on the line and the current strategy is clearly not dealing whatsoever with this crisis.”
He added that constituents had been in touch to tell him their experiences and said the stories were ‘truly heart breaking’.
“Lothians patients don’t have a choice but to go to A&E,” he said.
‘’Over a decade of SNP mismanagement has left our NHS understaffed and under pressure and it's clear that patients aren’t getting the care they deserve because staff aren’t getting the support they need.”
He went on: “If action is not taken now, we risk a winter of chaos in A&E departments across the Lothians.”
Jacquie Campbell, chief officer of acute services at NHS Lothian, said services are under ‘extreme and sustained pressure’ due to a number of sites being close to capacity.
“We have asked for mutual aid to help ease the situation that our teams and patients are currently facing and are actively re-deploying staff from across the sector into the roles that need them most,” she said.
“She added: “I cannot praise and thank our staff enough for the ways in which they are continuing to respond to these challenges, however there is no denying that we are in a serious situation.
“We urge everyone in Lothian to play their part to help keep A&E and our acute hospital beds for those that need it most. This includes only going to A&E if your condition is life threatening.”