The extent of the mounting pressure faced by health services in Scotland has been revealed, with a raft of statistics showing waiting time targets being missed and hospital beds being blocked by patients ready to leave.
Figures revealed that hospitals are still failing to hit a legally binding 12-week treatment time guarantee, while targets to see A&E patients within four hours have also been missed again.
In addition, the statistics showed that 135,000 days in hospital beds between October and December last year were taken up by patients waiting to be discharged.
It comes after increasing concern among medical and nursing leaders that the NHS is under increasing strain.
Yesterday, Neil Dewhurst, outgoing president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, warned that doctors and nurses were being placed under “almost intolerable pressure” due to cuts in hospital beds, growing admissions and staff shortages.
The huge number of statistics published by Information Services Division (ISD) yesterday included the latest performance towards the legally binding Treatment Time Guarantee, where patients must start treatment within 12 weeks of it being agreed.
Despite its legal status, meaning all patients should be seen within the time limit, the figures showed 1,371 people waited longer than this between October and December – the majority from NHS Lothian and Grampian. In December alone, 453 of those treated had waited over 12 weeks, compared with 384 in July last year.
The number of patients waiting over 12 weeks for an outpatient appointment has also continued to rise.
While the target is not subject to the same legal guarantees, the figures showed that at the end of December more than 11,000 patients still on the waiting list had been waiting more than 12 weeks. This compared to 5,678 in December 2012.
The report said the number waiting over 12 weeks for an outpatient appointment was at its highest level since the target was introduced in March 2010.
It added: “The majority of NHS boards have advised that this is due to increasing pressures around capacity, demand and resource.” However, the Scottish Government said that more than 90 per cent of patients were being treated within 18 weeks of being referred by their GP, meaning this target was being met.
Figures for waits in A&E departments found that just five of Scotland’s 14 health boards were meeting a “waiting time standard” of 98 per cent of patients being admitted or discharged within four hours. But the numbers facing very long waits has dropped from 323 waiting over 12 hours in December 2012 to 42 last December.
The figures also revealed high numbers of patients experiencing delayed discharge – beds being blocked by people ready to leave hospital but awaiting outside support to be organised.
The figures showed there were 909 patients unable to leave hospital at the census date in January, including 254 waiting over the maximum four-week target. This was up from 156 during the October census and 174 in January last year. The report said that almost 135,000 hospital “bed days” had been lost because of delayed discharge between October and December.
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said the problem of delayed discharge was reaching “crisis level”.
Health secretary Alex Neil said: “Although the current level of delayed hospital discharges is 68 per cent lower than it was in 2007, I believe it is still unacceptably high and shows that there is still much to do.”