The flu outbreak has taken its toll on NHS Lothian with a huge increase in the number of operations cancelled in the region.
Scottish Government figures for last month show an incredible 82 per cent increase in cancellations compared to the same period in December 2016. A total of 180 operations were cancelled compared to 99 the previous year.
Union bosses confirmed severe winter pressures, including the flu bug had hit the health board hard, with increased numbers of frontline hospital staff off sick. The cancellations were for capacity or non-clinical reasons which include there being no beds available and staff were either not available or off sick. A total of 1,054 operations were cancelled for these reasons in 2017, down slightly on the 2016 figure of 1,180 for NHS Lothian.
Labour Lothian MSP Kezia Dugdale said the figures showed that the scale of pressure on NHS staff is unsustainable and called on SNP ministers to come up with a workforce plan to give staff the support they need.
She said: “The pressure on our NHS in Edinburgh and the Lothians is simply unsustainable.
“SNP ministers need to address the growing gaps in the health service workforce to deliver better support for staff and faster care for patients.
“More than 1,000 operations cancelled in 2017 because local hospitals couldn’t cope should set alarm bells ringing in the government.
“It shows the level of pressure that our hospitals are under.”
Unison branch chair Tom Waterson confirmed that NHS Lothian staff had been off sick due to the flu virus and this could be anyone from theatre nurses to operating department practitioners.
He said: “To be fair to NHS Lothian, December was an extremely busy month patient-wise and obviously with flu which affected staff and did unfortunately lead to operations being cancelled due to a lack of availability.
“However, that doesn’t excuse them completely – we still believe there is extra capacity in operating theatres and if utilised properly it would assist in operations not being cancelled.”
Jacquie Campbell, Chief Officer of Acute Services, NHS Lothian, said: “We know that any delay in diagnosis or treatment can be worrying.
“I apologise to patients whose procedure has been deferred, but I would also assure them that this decision is made to ensure patient safety. December was a very busy month and we experienced significant pressures, in comparison with other winters, because of a high number of complex cases, which require longer treatment, and respiratory illness.
“Our staff are working extremely hard to continue to provide the highest standards of care and we also continuing to work with health and social care partnerships, to make sure patients can be discharged home once they are well.
“The decision to reschedule an appointment is one that is never taken lightly and NHS Lothian works with a strict criteria, developed by clinicians to assess each patient to determine their clinical need and priority before any procedure is deferred.”