Every health board in Scotland faces additional pressures over winter, but NHS Lothian faces more than any other, due to a combination of factors. NHS Lothian has the highest number of delayed discharges, otherwise known as bed blocking, out of all 14 health boards, with 25 per cent of the national total. A&E waiting times targets in NHS Lothian have not been met in an entire year and in the last year NHS Lothian has seen a record number of operations cancelled due to capacity reasons.
Recent figures from the National Records of Scotland have shown that the predicted number of “winter deaths” last winter in Lothian rose to 3,139, a 12 per cent increase of 336 from the winter before. Most of these additional deaths are due to diseases that are more prevalent during winter, such as influenza and pneumonia.
Last winter saw a flu epidemic in Scotland that will have contributed to the increased number of deaths, however, this year the SNP Government have failed to order enough flu vaccines. GPs have been instructed to only administer the new recommended more effective flu vaccination to those aged over 75, meaning that almost 80,000 people in Lothian aged between 65 and 74 will be missing out on the vaccine, which is available to the same age group in England.
In the winter months A&E attendances tend to shoot up, with more injuries like people falling on icy roads and more road accidents because of worse conditions. Hospitals can put plans in place to deal with these additional pressures, but NHS Lothian A&E departments have not met the waiting time target of 95 per cent of patients being seen within four hours since 29 October 2017. The last year has seen an average of 83 per cent of patients seen within the four hour target, a drop from 95 per cent for the previous year.
Winter funding is designed to help hospitals deal with a short-term increase in pressure. However, NHS Lothian is already dealing with increased pressure with average weekly A&E attendances rising over the last year. In September, the Scottish Government announced an extra £10 million for the NHS as part of a winter resilience package. NHS Lothian will receive about £1.4 million, based on a formula called NRAC that allocates funding to health boards roughly based on population size, which for NHS Lothian is 14 per cent.
The way the funding is allocated does not, however, take into consideration the current pressures on each health board and this money might not be enough to deal with the additional winter pressures in NHS Lothian.
NHS Lothian staff work incredibly hard to care for every patient who come through the door, but they are being let down by SNP Ministers who are failing to give them the additional support that they need.
The SNP government’s failure to deal with delayed discharge means that people are stuck in hospital with nowhere else to go, there are less beds available, longer waiting times and more cancelled operations.
Failure to provide enough flu vaccinations means more hospital admittances and increased pressure on A&E services. The catalogue of failures by SNP ministers has compounded pressures in NHS Lothian and created the current crisis.
The UK Conservative Government has provided record funding to help meet the demands on our Scottish NHS and SNP ministers must provide NHS Lothian staff with the support they need to deal with what could be a very challenging winter.
Miles Briggs is a Lothian Conservative MSP and the party’s shadow health secretary