A&E waiting times: Scottish Government contacts health boards 'seeking assurance' over figures

The Scottish Government has reached out to every health board in Scotland “to seek assurance” accident and emergency (A&E) figures are being compiled correctly, amid suggestions thousands of patients a week are being “deliberately excluded”.

The Scotsman this week exclusively revealed that up to 2,000 patients a month are being “deliberately hidden”, according to a whistleblower at Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QEUH).

At NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGGC), the health board which runs QEUH, just over 6,000 patients are seen in A&E each week, with 71.3 per cent of those patients seen within four hours. However, the health board does not include patients who present at its Acute Assessment Unit (AAU) at QEUH in its A&E figures, despite the two fulfilling basically the same function.

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This has led to concern among opposition parties the Government is obfuscating the scale of the pressure on all of NHS Scotland’s A&E departments, with Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary Dr Sandesh Gulhane referring the government to the UK Statistics Authority over the revelations.

Glasgow's Queen Elizabeth University Hospital
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Now the Government has made all health boards report what data they collect on AAUs.

Scottish Labour health spokesperson Jackie Baillie said: “A&Es across Scotland are already in a state of unprecedented chaos, but it looks like dodgy data collection is hiding the true scale of the problem.

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“We already know that every week lives are being put at risk as thousands of people are left waiting for hours longer than they should be, and it is terrifying to think that the reality could be even worse.

“We need real transparency around these figures. It is clear that many of those attending AAUs should be included in the waiting times stats, but have been deliberately excluded. The SNP Government need to be completely open about their knowledge of these inconsistencies and ensure that everyone is counted.

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“The SNP have a long track record of trying to fiddle the figures to mask their failure – they cannot keep looking the other way on this.”

Dr Gulhane said: “Our A&Es are in crisis, with weekly waiting times at record highs – yet these troubling inconsistencies in data collection mean that the situation could be even worse than it seems.

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“It has never been more vital that we get accurate information about what’s going on in our hospitals. The fact that the Scottish Government’s statistics may be excluding thousands of emergency care patients is a shocking oversight.

“We desperately need consistency, but we must make sure our emergency care statistics show the full picture as well.”

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He added: “The SNP Government must now ensure all AAUs are included in official waiting times data, to finally give a true picture of emergency medicine in Scotland.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We expect all boards to comply with guidelines for recording waits against the four-hour target, which covers attendances at all types, including in trolleyed areas of assessment units. We have contacted boards this week to seek assurance this is being adhered to.

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“A&E departments continue to experience significant pressure and, in common with healthcare systems in the UK and globally, the pandemic is still impacting services. Scotland is the only part of the UK to publish weekly A&E statistics.”

A spokesperson for NHSGGC said: “It is important to understand assessment units are not emergency departments. They are part of a hospital admissions unit where patients come in for a series of tests and assessments to determine if they need to be admitted to hospital or whether they can go home with appropriate support.

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“Patients admitted to the unit have already had an initial clinical assessment before arrival. This model of care is designed so that patients remain in the unit while appropriate tests, investigations and treatments are carried out.

“This leads to a decision being taken on whether to send a patient home or admit to a ward, meaning it is entirely appropriate that a patient may spend up to 24 hours in the unit being assessed and treated before being discharged.

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“Our most recent turn-around times in relation to the assessment unit at the QEUH show 78.2 per cent were admitted or discharged within 12 hours and 92.6 per cent within 24 hours. We can confirm we are meeting with staff next week to discuss any concerns they might have in relation to how we record data to ensure stats continue to be recorded and acted on in the best interests of our patients.

“We can also confirm we are working with the Government to provide full details on how data is recorded in relation to waiting times.”

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