HEALTH chiefs will double spending on ensuring Lothian hospitals can cope with the oncoming winter amid concerns the system is “already under duress”.
After a challenging winter last year, NHS Lothian bosses announced plans to radically change its approach to make the system more reactive and flexible to demand.
The £6.4 million winter plan to combat the challenges of the cold snap will encompass another 46 acute beds at the Western General Hospital and St John’s Hospital, as well as the option to open some wards at weekends and to provide more elderly care at home.
It comes as the Evening News revealed waiting times had soared over the summer – traditionally a smoother time – so that nearly 7000 patients waited more than 12 weeks for outpatient treatments such as hip replacements in August.
Jim Crombie, chief officer of acute services at NHS Lothian, told a board meeting in October that the hospital’s front door was “already under duress”.
Mr Crombie said: “We have to plan ahead and ensure that nothing is left to chance if we are to provide top quality, patient-centred safe and effective care.
“We have created a winter planning board made up of all hospital campuses and integrated joint boards and health and social care partnerships.
“It means that when one area comes under pressure, other areas can react and rally their resources to support that area.
Norovirus and flu outbreaks, increases in falls due to poor weather conditions and staff leave over the festive period were identified as key risks in papers before NHS Lothian’s board last month.
The board has made it a priority to protect elective surgeries as 600 people had their surgeries cancelled on the day last winter due to increased demand for beds.
Mr Crombie added: “We have also looked at lessons learned, at staffing rotas and sickness absence to ensure we have a complete picture of winter in Lothian and built solutions to address each in turn.”
The need for increased investment in winter reveals underlying problems, warned Lothian MSP Alison Johnstone.
Ms Johnstone, Scottish Greens’ health spokesperson, said: “The forward planning by NHS Lothian for winter is welcome but we should remain cautious.
“Throwing money at the problem isn’t the whole answer. Increasing bed capacity is welcome but of course recruitment and retention of staff is a massive issue for the health board.
“We also need greater effort on social care packages to reduce delayed discharges from hospitals. The need to increase investment in our health service by millions of pounds at this time of year also underlines the importance of tackling the causes of poor health.”