LOTHIAN’S hospitals are on the brink of a major winter meltdown which could cause chaos for hundreds of patients, it was warned today.
The Evening News understands that senior staff have been told health bosses have been close to declaring a “red alert” in recent days due to mounting pressure over beds at the Royal Infirmary and Western General Hospital. A full-blown crisis has so far been averted and NHS Lothian denied it had come close to calling a red alert, which would have seen some less urgent
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operations cancelled. But a health board insider said that a drop in temperature in coming weeks, creating icy conditions, could be all that is needed to throw the health service into turmoil.
The warning came after the health board was forced to deny other reports that there were “no available beds” at its major Edinburgh hospitals and as fears over the Lothian health service’s ability to cope were set to be raised at First Minister’s Questions today.
Health Secretary Alex Neil will give a statement at Holyrood today on NHS waiting times following allegations that more than one board - including NHS Lothian - has fiddled its figures.
All 14 health boards were asked to review their waiting-time practices earlier this year and a report was due to be submitted to the Scottish Government by December.
He is expected to outline what measures the governm,ent will take against boards caught manipulating their figures.
Speaking on the current suituation in NHS Lothian a source said: “Consultants were told by a senior figure on Tuesday that the situation was very difficult, that a red alert was imminent and to push for discharges. It came very close.
“Even yesterday, emergency medical beds across the whole of Lothian were under tremendous pressure. Patients from Edinburgh are being sent to St John’s Hospital because of the pressure the hospitals are under. They are coping so far, but only just.
“The real crunch point will probably come just after Christmas. It’s a matter of time before a red alert is declared and if the weather gets colder there’s potential for disaster in the next few weeks.”
It also emerged today that the health board’s performance against a target for emergency admissions plummeted again this month.
The Scottish Government expects 98 per cent of emergency patients to be admitted or discharged within four hours, but the ERI’s average performance is 77 per cent and on one day fell to 56 per cent.
Labour Lothians MSP Sarah Boyack wants time to quiz Alex Salmond about Lothian’s acute hospitals today.
She said: “We need to know whether the health board has the capacity to deal with cases as they arise and whether some patients will face postponement to treatment.”
Dr David Farquharson, NHS Lothian’s medical director, said: “We have already stated that we are experiencing unprecedented demand. However, patient safety would never be compromised and only patients deemed clinically well enough would be discharged.
“Consultants have been asked to ensure that they prioritise identifying patients who are ready to be cared for in the community.
“We constantly monitor capacity at each of these sites to ensure we are making the most effective use of the beds available.”
Operations can be cancelled
DURING a red alert, some elective operations are cancelled to free up space for emergencies.
GPs are also informed and asked to consider whether admissions are necessary.
It is likely that health bosses will fear that NHS Lothian’s waiting lists, which have been reducing, will rise again if a red alert is issued.
An email sent to West Lothian GPs on Tuesday by the region’s chief nurse said there were “no available beds for admissions” at the ERI and Western.
But the health board’s medical director said: “There are beds available across all of our hospital sites and at no point have we, or will we, stop admitting patients to hospital.”