The head of the Scottish health service has admitted that pressures on hospital emergency departments causing patients to be diverted to other hospitals are “concerning”.
Paul Gray, NHS Scotland chief executive, acknowledged recent problems where “unprecedented demand” in some A&Es meant patients faced long waits or having to go elsewhere for treatment, despite the fact such problems are normally linked to the winter months.
He repeated apologies offered by other NHS managers and said many boards were facing considerable pressures in A&E.
But he said contingency plans were in place to deal with peaks in demand.
His comments come as Scotland prepares to host the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, with a large influx of visitors expected, potentially adding further to NHS demand.
Earlier this month after a 25 per cent surge in demand at the Victoria Infirmary in Glasgow, patients were sent to other hospitals in the city, operations were postponed and extra care home spaces were made available to free up beds among patients waiting to be discharged.
It then emerged that in Lanarkshire, an outbreak of norovirus had meant that people with minor injuries were told to travel from Hairmyres Hospital in East Kilbride to Wishaw General Hospital because doctors were overwhelmed by demand. Meanwhile in Aberdeen consultants have warned they may be left unable to provide a safe level of care in A&E due to concerns over staffing.
Mr Gray told The Scotsman it was unusual to have high demand in A&E during the spring and summer months, with the busiest periods usually in the winter.
He said: “I would describe it as a peak in demand that was perhaps slightly unexpected given the time of year. But that is the nature of peaks in demand. They don’t just come along with a nice, neat predictable way.
“Of course it’s concerning. It is particularly a concern if we have to divert patients to another hospital,” he said.
“But it was not something that couldn’t be coped with because it was so outside the norms. We were able to deal with it.”
Mr Gray also said he was confident that a long-missed target to treat patients in A&E within four hours would be met by September.
He said in March last year, performance was 91.9 per cent and was now up to 93.3 per cent.
“We are committed to maintaining a trajectory to get to 95 per cent by September,” he said.
Margaret Watt, chair of the Scotland Patients Association, said it was vital that the right services were available to patients in need of emergency care when they were required.
But she added: “People need to be told when it is appropriate to use A&E and when they should go elsewhere.”
Dr Nikki Thompson, chair of the British Medical Association’s Scottish Consultants Committee, said: “Workforce shortages and high vacancy rates are a significant contributing factor. As a result, medical staff are working under considerable strain to try to maintain high quality care.”