Plan to help struggling hospitals cope with winter

STRUGGLING Scottish hospitals have been given £9 million to improve emergency care in the run-up to winter after failing to meet waiting times targets for nearly two years.

Extra cash will help the NHS plan for winter care in hospitals. Picture: Greg Macvean

Health secretary Shona Robison announced a new action plan yesterday to address problems in A&E, after a “challenging” winter pushed hospitals to breaking point, forcing 3,200 people to wait more than eight hours in casualty in January.

NHS Scotland has failed to meet Scottish Government target of treating 95 per cent of patients within four hours since August 2013.

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Ms Robison said: “Last winter was challenging for our health boards, despite the planning that went in to preparing for what is always a period of significant pressure.

“That is why all boards will be reviewing plans ahead of next winter and to ensure A&E performance improves across all 12 months of the year.”

She told hospital chiefs to improve their services by adopting a six-point plan which includes increasing weekend and earlier in the day discharges, and ensuring patients are cared for in their own homes.

All 14 health boards will also received a share of the £9m from the Scottish Government’s £50m Unscheduled Care Fund.

Improving A&E performance cannot be done in isolation from the rest of the system, she said, calling for collaboration across health and social care.

Dr Jean Turner, patron of the Scotland Patients Association, said she welcomed the fact that the government was addressing deep-rooted issues caused by reorganisation of the NHS. But she added: “It’s important not just to throw money at the problem but to look at how A&E connects to primary care and people’s needs in the community.

“There has been so much focus on reorganising the health service that people forgot that it wasn’t about ticking boxes but real people with complex problems.”

Clinical leaders also raised concerns over high vacancy levels which are presenting a major challenge to the health service.

Dr Nikki Thompson, chairwoman of the BMA’s Scottish consultants committee, said: “The pressures faced by A&E departments are a symptom of wider problems in the NHS and the Scottish Government’s recognition that action must extend beyond A&E departments is welcome.

“However, problems such as the high number of consultant vacancies make this increasingly difficult. These issues need to be addressed.”

The latest A&E figures show 93.5 per cent of patients in Scotland were treated within four hours, the best result since weekly reporting began in February. The government has pledged to £100m to tackle bed blocking, while £200m will ensure greater integration between the NHS and care services.