Alan Roden: The crisis that must be the SNP's top priority

WINTER is over, the '˜beast from the east' has long since left our shores and ­summer has made a tentative appearance.

Wednesday, 16th May 2018, 7:00 am
NHS Lothian has not met A&E waiting time targets for more than six months
NHS Lothian has not met A&E waiting time targets for more than six months

But the crisis that struck Edinburgh’s health service over Christmas shows no sign of going away.

It has now been more than six months since NHS Lothian last met the Scottish Government’s target for A&E waiting times.

Yesterday, the latest figures revealed that just 83.7 per cent patients were seen within four hours, while the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary was by far the worst performing hospital in the whole country.

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And it’s not just the A&E departments in crisis: hundreds of operations are being cancelled because our hospitals can’t cope, while bed-blocking is costing the over-stretched health service tens of millions of pounds.

Behind these dry statistics are patients who are suffering in agonising pain after an injury, dealing with the emotional trauma of nervously waiting for an operation, or languishing in a hospital bed because no social care package is in place when they’re ready to be discharged.

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Royal Infirmary misses waiting time targets for six months

I remember when the new ‘super hospital’ in Glasgow – the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QEUH) or ‘Death Star’ as it was nicknamed – was dramatically falling below performance standards a few years back.

The national tabloids were up in arms, and the hospital became a political hot potato. Editors and MSPs demanded action. So the Scottish Government sent in a taskforce with a £50 million action plan.

Last week, nearly 93 per cent of A&E patients were seen there within four hours – still below the 95 per cent target, but what a dramatic improvement. Not a single patient waited more than 12 hours.

At the ERI, 21 patients in A&E waited more than half-a-day to be seen by a doctor.

The situation has been transformed in Glasgow as a result of newspaper and political pressure.

Of course, it is no coincidence that of the tens of thousands of patients who attend the super-hospital, many live in Nicola Sturgeon’s own constituency.

And it’s no coincidence that the big national newspapers, with the exception of this paper’s sister title, The Scotsman, are based in Glasgow.

NHS Lothian is today in crisis, but it’s not getting the national attention it deserves. If the QEUH was performing as badly as the ERI, there would once again be a national outcry. Patients in Edinburgh and the Lothians deserve better.

In response to a parliamentary question, Health Secretary Shona Robison has admitted the ERI situation is “unacceptable”.

Great – but what’s the government doing about it? NHS Lothian has a £31m shortfall. That kind of money would be found for NHS Greater Glasgow in a heartbeat.

Everyone in Holyrood expects a reshuffle this summer and Ms Robison will surely be removed from her post for a catalogue of failings. If she was Westminster Health Secretary, she would already be long gone.

Her successor will have a lot to fix.

There has to be a public inquiry into mental health services in NHS Tayside, the postcode lottery that sees Scottish patients denied drugs which are available in England needs to end, and proposals to scrap the standard waiting time for cancer must be ditched.

But improving the health service in Edinburgh and the Lothians should be at the very top of the to-do list.