Emergency departments faced the busiest festive period on record with more than 10,000 patients receiving treatment across Lothian in less than three weeks.
Winter bugs were blamed for the spike in A&E attendances and hospital admissions in the 2014-15 crossover as the region’s hospitals shouldered the strain with most GPs’ surgeries closing for a prolonged spell.
Staff at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary – Scotland’s busiest A&E department – treated nearly 100 more patients than the same period last year, with many suffering from respiratory illnesses.
Elsewhere, forecasts of increased patient numbers at St John’s Hospital, the Royal Hospital for Sick Children and the minor injuries unit at the Western General Hospital were also realised, with each reporting higher attendances than ever.
With Christmas Day falling on a Thursday, many GP surgeries were closed for eight days over the festive period.
Dr Dave Caesar, clinical director of emergency medicine at NHS Lothian, praised staff who worked around the clock to provide care.
But he warned the knock-on impact was still being felt as hospitals continued to cope with the influx of additional patients.
“More patients were admitted to the ERI during this period – around 790 last week, compared with an average of 700 – from the emergency department to hospital wards for ongoing care,” he said.
“This obviously brings challenges for the emergency departments, but also the overall system throughout the hospital.”
Hogmanay and New Year’s Day saw the largest number of people with alcohol-related conditions or injuries.
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said it came as “no surprise” that the ERI had such a busy festive period.
“With an increasing and ageing population, this trend will only continue,” he said. “That’s why work needs to start early to support staff as they continue to work their fingers to the bone to deal with patients over Christmas in years to come.”
Lothian Labour MSP Sarah Boyack said staff deserved “tremendous praise” for their hard work and dedication over the busy festive weeks.
But she warned more community care was needed to reduce the strain on acute services.
She said: “While patient numbers have remained relatively stable in the last few years, a more pressing concern is how quickly people are being seen.
“In the last year over 17,000 people waited longer than four hours as resources are stretched to the limit.
“We need to make sure that access to GP and other community-based services are there for people with minor ailments to reduce the pressure on A&E departments and ensure they can cope with more serious cases.”