Health chiefs vow to do better after hike in winter waiting times

THERE was a 416 per cent rise in accident and emergency waiting time breaches at Borders General Hospital over the festive period, a report has revealed.

NHS Borders’ festive report has shown a total of 31 breaches of the nationally-set Emergency Access Standard (EAS) – which deems patients should be seen within four hours – were made over eight days of public holidays around Christmas and New Year.

The health board admitted the number of violations were “significant”, with only six breaches recorded the previous year.

The busiest day for A&E staff was January 3, when 96 admissions resulted in 17 EAS infringements – representing 24 per cent of patients entering the department.

A NHS Borders spokesperson said the high level of breaches on January 3 were due to GP practices being closed.

The health board was inundated with patients during the festive break.

A total of 586 A&E attendances were made to the BGH over both four-day public holiday weekends, an 11 per cent increase on the previous year.

Emergency admissions were higher than discharges over the eight days, with the report stating: “The correlation with the four-day public holiday weekends demonstrates the impact of reduced services on patient flow.”

Borders Emergency Care Services answered 1,220 out of hours calls compared to their prediction of 714 and community hospitals also saw a “very significant” rise in admissions and discharges of 44 per cent for three weeks surrounding Christmas and New Year.

The rise in patient numbers put pressure on other sectors of the BGH, says the report.

Pharmacy provision was “insufficient” to cope with the increased activity, there was no on-site rapid response cover and ambulance paramedics needed the help of British Red Cross workers at busy times.

The report adds: “SAS (Scottish Ambulance Service) patient transport provision was increased from previous years on the public holidays, but feedback suggests that capacity was under-utilised in the mornings and then struggled to fully meet demand later in the day.

“However, an increased level of cover for supported discharge by British Red Cross buddies was valuable and facilitated approximately 18 discharges over the six days they were present in the BGH.”

It continued: “Whilst there were pressures within the system over the festive period, the general sense is that the system coped well in the context of increased activity with a reduced bed complement.

“As with the previous year, the commitment of staff to maintain service provision despite challenges from the severe weather, played a substantial role in our ability to meet demand over the festive period.”

The paper’s recommendations, approved by NHS Borders officials at a recent public meeting, included extended cover at the BGH pharmacy, occupational therapy and from the START team within the hospital.

Senior management have been advised to attend daily patient flow meetings while ambulance services are to start later in the day. The report also suggests investigating non-clinical staff supporting wards at times of high pressure.