HOSPITALS are suffering a major winter crisis with patients having to spend up to 12 hours on trolleys before being properly treated, senior doctors have warned.
Consultants have told Scotland on Sunday that accident and emergency units are facing “exceptional pressure” and are failing to meet government targets on ensuring that every patient is either admitted or discharged within a maximum of four hours after arrival.
Medics say they having to deal with a larger number of unwell elderly people than in previous years, with further pressure on bedspace coming from a nationwide outbreak of norovirus that has closed 18 wards in 14 hospitals over the last week.
The national target is aimed at ensuring that 98 per cent of patients spend less than four hours from arrival to admission, discharge or transfer.
Last January, departments were managing to get around 94 per cent of patients seen within the four-hour period but doctors said that the target has been missed by significant margins on some days over recent weeks.
NHS Lothian said that on New Year’s Eve, the figure was down to 82 per cent.
There are also unconfirmed reports from some units that the figure in some hospitals has fallen to as low as 62 per cent on certain days.
Scotland’s largest NHS board, Greater Glasgow, has confirmed it has recorded a “substantial increase” in admissions this winter.
Dr Jason Long, the chair of the College of Emergency Medicine in Scotland and a consultant at the Southern General in Glasgow, said: “This is a national issue.
“I have spoken to the [clinical] leaders in all the major health boards and currently this is something that is around the country.”
He added: “We normally have slightly more pressure in the winter but it is exceptional pressure this winter. The capacity isn’t there at the moment.”
He said that his own unit was unlikely to get near the 98 per cent target this winter.
“People are going up to ten and 12 hours” before being seen, he added. “They aren’t waiting for treatment. They are having to wait for an available appropriate bed.
“Safety is the main issue so sometimes the safest place is to remain in the emergency department rather than admit people to beds that are not in the right area.”
He said hospitals and the Scottish Government were working closely to try and mitigate the crisis, with the aim of freeing up more space in hospitals to allow patients to be admitted more speedily.
One senior medical figure who asked not to be named said that the added pressure, together with constrained capacity in hospitals, had led to “meltdown” across the festive period, with staff struggling to ensure that patients were being cared for safely and with dignity.
Jane Grant, the chief operating officer for acute hospitals in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, said there had been a 12 per cent increase in the number of admissions between Christmas Eve and 30 December compared to the same time last year.
She said: “Winter is always particularly busy for our hospitals, however, this year there has been a substantial increase in emergency admissions through our A&E departments when compared with the same period last year.”
She added: “Our emergency teams have been very busy with patients attending with various illnesses and injuries including significant numbers of patients presenting with severe respiratory illnesses – many of whom have gone on to be admitted to hospital.”
Dr David Farqharson, medical director of NHS Lothian, said: “Plans were in place to treat an additional number of patients and our staff worked hard to do this as quickly as possible.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said last night: “We know that health services face added pressure in the winter months and NHS boards have to be ready to manage potential increases in demand but this year we are also experiencing an earlier than usual surge in norovirus cases which has closed wards and affected patients and staff alike.”
He added: “That is why we have made £3 million of extra funding available to help increase hospital capacity this winter.”