Scots NHS facing ‘winter meltdown’ as operations cancelled

Health secretary Shona Robison. Picture: Greg Macvean
Health secretary Shona Robison. Picture: Greg Macvean
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Scotland's NHS is facing claims of a "winter meltdown" after some hospitals were forced to cancel operations due to soaring pressure on A&E departments.

NHS Lanarkshire has also redeployed office staff to cleaning duties after its three hospital sites at Hairmyres, Wishaw and Monklands were "inundated" over the festive period.

Elective or non-urgent procedures have now been postponed at the hospitals for the rest of the week due to the increased pressure on services. NHS Dumfries and Galloway also confirmed that some outpatient clinics were suspended on Wednesday and non-urgent elective surgeries postponed for the day.

It came as official NHS statistics revealed that hundreds of patients had been left waiting more than eight hours to be seen in A&E departments over the past week, while more than 600 operations were cancelled by hospitals in November over a lack of capacity.

Scotland is facing the same kind of winter pressures as the NHS in England where thousands of non-urgent operations have been cancelled in January as the service down south struggles to cope.

READ MORE: Let’s remember how good Scotland’s NHS actually is, says Lesley Riddoch

Labour health spokesman Anas Sarwar said: "These statistics reveal an SNP winter meltdown in the health service.
“Our hard-working doctors, nurses and NHS staff go beyond the line of duty over the winter break, working Christmas and New Year’s Day to save lives and keep us healthy.
“But the truth is they are not receiving the resources they need and deserve to do their jobs."

NHS Lanarkshire chief executive Calum Campbell yesterday described the situation facing the health board as "unparalleled".

He said: "Exceptional circumstances need exceptional measures to enable us to deliver our number one healthcare priority - patient safety.

"We asked our office-based staff to consider volunteering to suspend their 'day-job' to support their clinical colleagues, bearing in mind our key purpose and commitment as an organisation to care for people who need our help.

"Not surprisingly, we've had a tremendous response which demonstrates the strong team spirit that exists within the NHS."

New figures show that across Scotland waiting times in A&E units remained below a key target in the week before Christmas as demand rose by almost 20% on the previous year.

In the week leading up to Christmas Eve, a total of 26,569 people visited A&E departments in Scotland, up almost 20% from the 22,267 attendances in the same week in 2016.

The Royal Hospital for Children in Glasgow experienced a 44% increase in attendances while the city's Queen Elizabeth University Hospital saw a 26% rise. Wishaw, Raigmore, Borders and Inverclyde hospitals also saw increases of more than 25%.

The rise has been put down to a rise in cases of flu and respiratory infections.

A total of 83.3% of patients were dealt with inside four hours at A&E departments, against a target of 95%. The figure represents a slight increase from 81.1% the previous week and is down from 93.5% on the same week the previous year.

Scottish Health Secretary Shona Robison said: "Our NHS and community health service do a fantastic job all year round but there is no doubt that winter can bring additional demands, and I'd like to thank them once again for the dedication they have shown during this busy winter period.

"We're working with boards to help them cope with pressures and this year alone we have invested £22.4 million to create extra resilience across the system."

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Gregor Smith said: "These figures illustrate the demands being placed on health staff right across Scotland as a result of spikes in various illnesses such as flu.

"We can all play a part in ensuring demand on our most acute services is minimised, however, by taking time to think of the best way to access treatment.

"Only go to A&E if you have had an accident or you are experiencing significant difficulties, such as trouble breathing or severe bleeding."

Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary was moved to "red status" on Wednesday due to high admissions, partially down to a high number of GP referrals and levels of A&E admissions, with some outpatient clinics suspended and non-urgent elective surgeries postponed for the day.

Some outpatient and theatre nurses have been moved on to wards and agency staff have been drafted in to boost numbers in A&E.

The outpatient clinics suspended are respiratory, cardiology, diabetes and renal.

NHS Dumfries and Galloway medical director Ken Donaldson said: "We have extremely high levels of emergency department referrals and GP referrals.

"There are a lot of respiratory issues, with many cases of flu.

"We're now at a point where the hospital has been moved onto 'red status' and some outpatient clinics are being suspended as we move to meet this increase in the most effective way possible and the resulting demand for beds.

"We've notified partner organisations such as the Scottish Ambulance Service, but obviously this is a countrywide situation."

NHS Grampian said it had also postponed a number of routine procedures in the last week.

A spokeswoman said: "As part of our winter planning, fewer elective procedures are booked into the system to allow for the increased hospital activity through this busy period.

"A small number of routine operations have been postponed."

NHS Ayrshire and Arran said: "We have had to postpone a very small number, approximately 15, orthopaedic procedures over the past two weeks due to an increase of orthopaedic trauma emergencies. These types of orthopaedic trauma cases are not unusual for this time of year.

"We continue to provide a high level of care for our patients in clinically safe environments. No staff member has been asked to 'volunteer' for any duties outwith their normal working duties."

The health board said they are continuing to carry out planned and elective operations.