Under-staffed NHS facing ‘Perfect storm’

Derek Feeley and Alex Neil talk before giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament's health committee hearing. Picture: Andrew Cowan
Derek Feeley and Alex Neil talk before giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament's health committee hearing. Picture: Andrew Cowan
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SCOTLAND’S hospitals do not have enough staff to deal with growing pressures on accident and emergency departments, nursing leaders have warned.

The NHS is facing a “perfect storm” of year-round pressures on the system and the Scottish Government must be “more transparent” about the funding to plug gaps, a report out yesterday from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said.

The warning came as official figures showed Scots are waiting longer than ever in A&E departments. In January of this year, one in ten patients waited longer than four hours to be treated – the worst record since monitoring began in 2007.

Only four out of 14 health boards treated 98 per cent of patients within four hours, in line with a forthcoming Scottish Government target.

RCN Scotland warned yesterday that the four-hour waiting time target for accident and emergency is unlikely to be met.

Its report to MSPs stated: “The current reality is that while nurses and other healthcare staff are trying to do their best, there are not enough staff, beds or resources within the system, in the right places, to deal with the increasing numbers of patients attending A&E now.”

The recent action plan unveiled by health secretary Alex Neil will need more staff and other resources. The RCN report added: “The government must be more transparent about where the money to fund the action plan is coming from.”

Whenever spending is “squeezed” in one part of the system, such as by speeding up access to treatment, the RCN warned that “pressures will inevitably build up elsewhere”.

It said: “The NHS in Scotland is facing a perfect storm of all-year-round pressures. The management of waiting lists is therefore just one of many pressures facing the health service and must be seen in context along with other issues such as demographic change, acute pressures beyond winter, patient flows, and planning a workforce which is able to deliver quality, person-centred care in the midst of these pressures.”

The Scottish Government has announced it is investing £50 million in an action plan to improve waiting times. A task force to oversee its implementation will be led by Jim Crombie, NHS Glasgow’s director of surgery and anaesthesia.

Figures for the last six months show the highest number of people waiting more than four hours in A&E since 2007. NHS Lanarkshire was the worst performer, with 11.3 per cent of people not seen within four hours.

The figures also showed that during March, across Scotland, 92 people spent more than 12 hours waiting in A&E to be treated, the highest figure for this time of year since the SNP came to power. The figure was down from 323 for December 2012.

Mr Neil said: “There is no doubt that pressure on our A&E departments is a pressing issue. We have seen a busy winter and, as we continue to deal with the demands of an ageing population, we are seeing an increase in admissions, adding even more pressure on doctors and nurses.”

Mr Neil appeared before MSPs on Holyrood’s health committee yesterday, where he insisted that there is nothing in recent NHS waiting-time figures to give cause for concern, after the scandal of manipulated waiting times figures at NHS Lothian.

The health secretary said “robust measures” had been put in place in light of an Audit Scotland investigation into the use of waiting-time codes across the health service.

The Scottish Government wants 95 per cent of people attending A&E departments to be seen within four hours by September next year, as a step towards meeting a higher target of 98 per cent.

In NHS Shetland, 99.5 per cent of A&E patients in March were dealt with within four hours, but in NHS Forth Valley the figure was 87.6 per cent of people.

Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: “This is no way to run a health service. If targets are not achieved they cannot simply be revised, action must be undertaken to tackle the problem.”

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Jim Hume MSP said: “It is a dismal reckoning of the SNP’s record on A&E waiting times that nearly 11,000 people had to wait over four hours to be seen in our A&E units … it is clear that compliance with A&E waiting times has stagnated.

“I am concerned that Alex Neil’s failure to act quickly to tackle this issue has had serious ramifications … we need to see action.”

Centre gets £1.7m to fund extra cataract and joint operations

Thousands more operations will be carried out to cope with a “significant increase” in people needing cataract and joint surgery.

Health secretary Alex Neil said £1.7 million would enable 2,700 additional operations to be carried out at the Golden Jubilee National Waiting Times Centre in Clydebank.

Since 2000, demand for cataract surgeries has increased by 67 per cent while the number of knee replacement operations has risen by almost 140 per cent.

The money will fund extra staff and bed and theatre capacity. This will allow 2,400 more cataract procedures and 3,000 additional joint surgeries to be carried out per year.

The move was announced as new figures showed the health service continues to meet a key waiting times target. In March, 90.6 per cent of patients whose entire journey could be measured were seen and treated within 18 weeks of their initial referral to a consultant.

Jill Young, Golden Jubilee chief executive, said: “There is clearly a demand for more orthopaedic and ophthalmology operations across the country … we are delighted to be able to provide these additional services.”

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