The NHS was also placed under strain by bed-blocking – also known as “delayed discharge” – when patients, are ready to leave hospital but cannot do so for reasons such as having no care home place or services to look after them, the Winter in Scotland in 2014-15 report stated.
There were 2,118 Scots admitted to hospital after being diagnosed with influenza during the winter months in 2014-15 – a sharp rise on the 762 during the same period a year before.
Scotland’s NHS had the highest pressures from respiratory illness in the past ten years with a 22.5 per cent rise in such conditions from December 2014 to January 2015 and “high levels sustained for many weeks”.
The pressures severely impacted on “waiting times performance” with the Scottish government missing its own target for treating of 98 per cent of all A&E patients within four hours last winter. A total of 90.2 per cent of those admitted to A&E departments at NHS Scotland hospitals were treated within that time during the winter period.
Increased pressures on A&E had a knock-on effect on patient operations with “reported increased levels of cancellation” the authors of the report said.
Bed days occupied by delayed discharge patients stood at 55,000 at the end of the 2014, although the rate fell to just under 47,000 in May 2015.
The report said: “The increased flu and respiratory emergency activity will have contributed to the reduced A&E waiting times performance in December, January and February 2015.”
Margaret Watt, of the Scotland Patients Association, expressing concern about the findings, said: “We can’t have people stuck in queues for hours.”
Scottish Labour public health spokesman Dr Richard Simpson said: “There are too many surgeries understaffed and overworked which will inevitably result in more patients going to A&E.”
However, health secretary Shona Robison, rejecting the criticism, said the Scottish government had already begun planning for 2015-16 and the “additional pressures winter brings”.