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The numbers of patients attending A&E at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh (ERI) rose to 400 a day last week – nearly fifteen per cent higher than the average in same months in previous years, Unison claimed.
Conditions at the emergency department have been likened to ‘a bad winter’ with high numbers of staff required to self-isolate while exhausted workers are also taking annual leave.
Sources at the ERI told the Evening News if the situation gets any worse the hospital could be forced to declare a major incident.
Staff also reported that more than a dozen beds at the Western General in Edinburgh and St John’s in Livingston had to be closed last week, sparking fears that hospitals are facing a major crisis as a result of staff shortage.
The health board confirmed today that the issue of ‘staffing pressures’ has been escalated to the most senior health officials in the region – the ‘Gold Command’ NHS oversight group.
It comes as the latest figures revealed numbers of people attending A&E across the country has risen sharply in recent months, now higher than during the coronavirus pandemic’s first wave.
Figures from Public Health Scotland show more than one in five patients waited longer than four hours at A&E for the three full weeks of July recorded so far.
NHS Lothian confirmed last week they had to push back elective operations so medical teams could shift their focus and capacity to the most-urgent cases.
Tracy Miller, Unison Lothian health branch secretary said: “The hospitals are at maximum and beyond, staff levels are just crippled.
"At A&E they are up an extra 50 people from 350 a day to around 400 so patients are having to wait 10 to 12 hours while it’s minimum staff levels. From a safety perspective you can meet standards but under that sort of pressure you can only do very basic care. People are frustrated because they can’t get a bed.
"It’s like a really bad winter but we would be geared up for that. This is at a time when the country is opening up. More workers are being pinged to isolate. Staff need a break too so many are taking annual leave. We saw 105 patients in the ERI with covid-19 at one point. They have worked flat out. But we are under increasing pressure from the Scottish Government to bring waiting lists down. Folk are struggling getting appointments with GP surgeries too. So many will turn up at A&E. It’s a perfect storm. Something has got to give.”
One concerned relative told the Evening News about her husband’s ordeal after he waited on a trolley for more than 9 hours to be seen on Tuesday.
She said: “The A&E department is nothing but a disgrace my husband taken in just after 4am was still on a trolley nine hours later, as the hospital have no beds available.
“A 74-year-old man with dementia and suspected heart attack was also left there on his own. He had breakfast and lunch lying in a corridor on a trolley. The department is too busy for visitors.”
Lothian MSP, Miles Briggs, said: “The length of waiting times at A&E is very concerning. NHS Lothian staff are run off their feet due to staff shortages and have put in anincredible effort over the last year and a half.
“The failure of SNP Ministers to properly workforce plan over the last five years, combined with a global pandemic, has pushed A&E departments to breaking point.
“Properly funding GP practices is crucial for lowering demand on A&E services, so that patients are seen at the right time by the right health professionals."
Professor Alex McMahon, Nurse Director, NHS Lothian, said: “We are currently experiencing staffing pressures across our system caused by higher levels of general sickness. This is exacerbated by the numbers of people on normal summer annual leave and staff who are self-isolating, either as a contact of a Covid case or because they have Covid themselves.
“We have taken a number of actions to ensure that patient safety, quality care and wellbeing of our hard-working staff remain the foremost priority in Lothian. This includes postponing non-urgent elective procedures and some non-urgent outpatient appointments to allow staff from those theatres and clinics to be re-deployed.
“We have worked closely with our partnership colleagues and our Employee Director throughout to ensure full visibility of the pressures we face and the actions being taken. The situation has been escalated to our Gold command group, which provides complete oversight across the community and acute health system in Lothian.
“In addition to utilising bank and agency staff, we have also offered staff in some of our services the option of covering additional shifts if they choose. These are some of the mitigating measures we take to carefully manage and maintain safe staffing levels with the required mix of skills and experience.“On two occasions and in line with national guidance, we have carried out rigorous risk assessments in relation to staff, who were isolating and had received both doses of vaccination, to allow them to return to work.“Around 460 new nurses are expected to begin working in Lothian between now and October, while teams of health support workers are also being deployed across the acute sector.”