SICK patients at city hospitals are facing waits of up to 22 hours as winter causes mounting chaos in emergency departments.
The Evening News can reveal that last week at the Western General Hospital’s Acute Receiving Unit (ARU), nearly one in ten patients became stuck in the department for eight hours or more. And of 782 patients sent to the unit, where patients in need of emergency care are referred by GPs or paramedics, 30 waited 12 hours or more, with one becoming stuck for 22 hours.
NHS Lothian today issued an apology to affected patients and said more wards would be opened in coming weeks to deal with soaring demand.
One hospital insider said bosses had so far resisted the temptation to cancel pre-planned operations to ease pressure and that patients were being put “anywhere there are beds”. They added that some patients were being discharged from hospital too quickly to make room for others, claiming readmission rates were on the rise.
While NHS Lothian had so far managed to avert a repeat of last winter’s turmoil, the health board dealt with more emergency patients last week compared with the same period last year.
The source said: “The big chiefs have continued to do elective surgery instead of cancelling putting more pressures on beds. Patients are being placed anywhere there are beds. There have also been a couple of patients returning who were discharged probably too early to free up beds.”
Of the 30 patients who waited 12 hours or more, 16 were later admitted to the main hospital, with the majority of the others having to spend the night in the ARU before being sent home. NHS sources said those who were left in the department overnight were “put up on beds and nursed as if they were on a ward”.
The Scottish Government has told health boards that 95 per cent of emergency patients should be admitted to hospital, transferred to another department or discharged within just four hours.
Labour Lothian’s MSP and his party’s health spokesman Neil Findlay described the pressures at the Western as “a real cause for concern”.
He added: “On Wednesday the Cabinet Secretary Alex Neil, denied there was a problem but today we know that people have had to wait up to 22 hours on trollies for treatment.
“We already know that at the weekend, staff numbers across NHS Lothian fall to very low levels and now we have confirmation that patients are being left for hours for treatment. This cannot continue and we need answers, staff are exasperated and at breaking point.”
Melanie Johnson, NHS Lothian’s director of unscheduled care, said the health board had already seen high demand for emergency services this winter and that there was a traditional rise in attendances in early January. She added: “We have planned as best as we can to provide safe and effective services for patients during periods of high demand and constantly monitor capacity at each of our hospitals to ensure we are making the most effective use of the beds we have available. We have already opened additional wards to provide a temporary increase in the number of beds available and will be adding more in the coming weeks.
“I would apologise to anyone that has had to wait too long, we know this is not acceptable and our dedicated staff work extremely hard to ensure patients are seen, diagnosed, treated and admitted or discharged as quickly as possible.”