Health inspectors will have new powers to close Scottish hospital wards if pressure on accident and emergency departments grows too severe, MSPs have been told.
The impact on hard-pressed staff of soaring A&E admissions could see Health Improvement Scotland (HIS) chiefs step in if patients in wards elsewhere in hospitals are put at risk.
It emerged today that many of Scotland’s emergency wards are still failing to meet a flagship target of treating 95% of patients in four hours, with waits having got worse in the past week.
The Scottish Government is to change the law after the inquiry into the deadly Vale of Leven C. diff outbreak which led to 34 deaths between 2007 and 2008. It means HIS inspectors can order hospitals to close wards to new admissions in order to protect patient safety although this would only be done as a “last resort.”
But MSPs were told today the new powers would extent beyond just infection outbreaks as they took evidence on the changes at Holyrood’s health committee.
Health minister Maureen Watt said it could occur if cleanliness levels are “not up to standards” in operating theatres.
And Robbie Pearson, chief executive of HIS added: “An example may be in terms of extreme pressure at the front of a hospital in terms of the numbers of A&E attendances and patients being required to be seen in an assessment unit.
“That may then have an impact in terms of safety and demand within that hospital environment.”
Jacqui Macrae, Head of Quality of Care, Healthcare Improvement Scotland said health boards themselves are likely to take “immediate action” to resolve problems in hospitals.
Ms Watt added: “Closing a ward to new admissions is an option of last resort and one that we hope is never needed.”
The latest official figures published today showed that 25,909 Scots were treated at Emergency Departments in the last week of February. Of these, more than 1800 waited longer than four hours.
A further 190 patients waited more than eight hours, while 28 patients waited more than 12 hours.
Labour’s public services spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: “The SNP set targets for our hardworking NHS staff and then don’t deliver the resources to meet them, and it is patients who lose out.
“Over 92,000 Scots have waited longer than the SNP promised they would at A&E in the last year, this sticking plaster approach to our health service simply needs to stop.” >}