SICK or injured patients attending Lothian’s main accident and emergency department are facing waits of up to 18 hours before being seen, the Evening News can reveal.
The figures, branded “shocking” by MSPs, show that 2260 people have waited more than four hours to be admitted, discharged or transferred at the Royal Infirmary A&E recently, as the region’s NHS winter health crisis deepens.
During December and in the first nine days of January, 339 patients were stuck for at least eight hours, including 60 who waited between 10 and 12 hours and 66 who were left for more than 12 hours.
One patient was forced to wait for 17 hours and 50 minutes before being processed through the department, the busiest of its kind in Scotland.
Conservative MSP and health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said NHS Lothian and the Scottish Government needed to “get their heads together” to sort the crisis.
He said: “The true ghastly extent of NHS Lothian waiting times seem to get worse by the month. It is not enough to say this was caused by unprecedented demand, otherwise we would have seen an equally dire situation across Scotland.
“I appreciate the casualty ward at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary is among the busiest in the UK. But that’s been the case for several years, and that is long enough to work out how many staff have to be on duty to deal with high demand.”
A Scottish Government target states that 98 per cent of accident and emergency patients should be admitted, discharged or transferred within four hours of arrival.
Over the whole of December, 9325 people turned up at A&E at the Royal Infirmary, followed by 2825 between January 1 and January 9.
In December, the health board hit the target in 82 per cent of cases, while in January it was achieved just 79.6 per cent of the time.
But NHS Lothian said the January data remained provisional and may yet be changed.
NHS Lothian chief executive Tim Davison admitted last month that the Royal Infirmary is under “particular pressure” and that performance against the four-hour target had been “hugely challenged”, with results being the worst of any acute hospital in Scotland for most of last year.
Health chiefs have admitted that the Royal Infirmary is undersized, with delayed discharges, an increase in Norovirus cases and increasing patient numbers all adding to pressure in recent months.
Labour Lothians MSP Sarah Boyack said: “It is absolutely shocking that people are being held in A&E for up to 18 hours.
“These statistics must act as a wake-up call to the Scottish Government to step in now.
“NHS Lothian is being stretched to breaking point and without serious investment in resources patients will continue to receive a second division service.”
Melanie Hornett, NHS Lothian’s nurse director, said that the patients who had faced the longest waits would have been seen and assessed and in most cases would have been awaiting transfer to an in-patient ward.
She said: “Where we know there is likely to be a long wait, patients receive ongoing care and will be transferred on to a bed to ensure greater comfort.
“NHS Lothian operates Scotland’s busiest emergency medicine facility and we have already stated that we are experiencing unprecedented demand for our services.
“We constantly monitor capacity at each of our acute sites to ensure we are making the most effective use of the beds we have available.
“Patients who need to be treated are prioritised by clinical need and our staff work extremely hard to ensure patients are seen, diagnosed, treated and admitted or discharged as quickly as possible.”
A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said that an extra £3 million to help Scottish health boards manage winter pressures had been made available.
They said: “The vast majority of patients will continue to be seen in Scotland’s A&E units within four hours, but we encourage people to check if A&E is the best place for them to receive treatment.”