‘Unprecedented challenges’ on A&E waiting times in 2018

The Borders General Hospital at Melrose.
The Borders General Hospital at Melrose.

Local Democracy Reporting Service

Data published by the Information Services Division (ISD) Scotland, an NHS body which publishes statistics on NHS Scotland, show that the number of patients waiting for more than four hours to be seen by medical professionals has increased by nearly a third.

More than 2,400 people waited for more than four hours in 2018, which is a 31.5% increase on the figures from 2017.

Furthermore, the number of people waiting for longer than eight hours has increased by 58%, and the amount of people waiting for over 12 hours has increased by 67%.

However, the percentage of people being seen within four hours has also increased over the 12 months, from 86.8% to 96.7%, meaning that while the number of people waiting longer than four, eight, and twelve hours has grown, the vast majority are still seen within four hours.

An NHS Borders spokesperson said: “We managed to see an average of 93 out of 100 patients within the national four-hour waiting time target. During the same period, the national average has been 91 patients out of 100.

“We recognise that health and social care across the country faced unprecedented challenges during winter 2017/18 such as a long, harsh winter featuring ‘the beast from the east’ and high numbers of influenza and norovirus.”

“This did impact on NHS Borders and when we are caring for a high number of sick people who cannot leave hospital until they are well enough, it can take longer for us to see new patients arriving at our emergency department.

“This is not what we would wish for the people of the Borders and we continually strive to improve our services so that we can provide prompt care to our patients.

“To ensure our patients receive the right treatment from the right services we would encourage people to continue to keep the emergency department for emergencies by using their local community pharmacy, minor injuries units (open 24 hours a day), and self-care when appropriate; as well as phoning NHS 24 on 111 for advice.”

Claudia Beamish, Scottish Labour list MSP for South Scotland, used the figures to criticise the Scottish Government: “Scottish Labour has been concerned about the pressures on health boards for some time and these staggering figures expose the scale of the challenge NHS staff face in delivering patient care and how badly they have been let down by years of SNP mismanagement of our NHS.

“Increasing numbers of people waiting too long at A&E reveals unacceptable pressure in other parts of our health service such as in social care and primary care.

“We already know that staff do not feel they are getting enough support and that the level of unfilled health posts is unsustainable.

“I have written to NHS Borders to understand more about the underlying reasons for these increases. 

“Ministers set the health service targets for staff to hit and then do not deliver the support and resources needed. It simply isn’t good enough.”

Rachael Hamilton, Conservative MSP for Etrrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire, also criticised the Scottish Government, saying: “NHS Borders staff work incredibly hard to care for every patient, but there is increasing pressure on services due to the decisions of SNP ministers who have led NHS Scotland into a workforce crisis over the last 11 years.

“Scotland is to get a £2bn funding boost from the UK Government as a result of more cash going to the NHS in England.

“We need to see the SNP stop the grievance politics and use the money effectively to ensure we see A&E properly staffed and managed.

However, SNP MSP Christine Graham, who represents Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale, pointed out that Scottish A&E departments are performing better than their close neighbours, insisting: “Scotland’s A&E departments consistently outperform their counterparts in England and Wales, however, the health secretary has been clear that no one should be waiting longer than they need to for treatment.

“In the Borders, the number of people waiting for less than four hours in A&E has improved from 86.8% to 96.7% since January 2018, meaning that NHS Borders are beating Scotland-wide targets.

“The Scottish Government’s £850m waiting times improvement plan sets out action to improve clinical effectiveness and efficiency, increase capacity, and design and implement new models of care.

“The Scottish Government also announced in the budget that £392m will go towards reducing waiting times.”