Scottish A&E units fail to meet target

MORE than 20,000 Scottish patients were forced to wait longer than four hours before being seen at an accident and emergency unit in the first part of this year, despite a government target to ensure almost all are seen within that time.

New figures show the number of sick people who had to wait over the four-hour mark was nearly 50 per cent up on the same period last year, when the figure was down to just under 14,000.

In January, the worst-performing month, more than 6 per cent of patients were forced to wait more than four hours before being either discharged, transferred or admitted to hospital - the highest figure since 2007. In Forth Valley and Fife health board areas, the numbers waiting rose to one in ten.

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The figures prompted warnings last night that an increase in admissions and cuts to medical staff numbers is leading to longer waits for patients needing emergency care.

The BMA said ministers should stop the target-setting altogether, and instead hand more control to A&E units.

Doctors have claimed that the four-hour target has led to medics needlessly admitting or transferring patients from A&E wards to other parts of hospitals purely to ensure the target is being met.

In an Audit Scotland survey last year, a total of 55 per cent of staff felt that patients were admitted to hospital to avoid breaching the target. However, the figures published last week show that even these efforts are no longer ensuring the target of 98 per cent seen in less than four hours is delivered.

In January, the figure was 93.6 per cent, in February 94.9 per cent, and in March 95.6 per cent. Statistics produced by the NHS's Information and Statistics Division show this equated to 20,258 patients, up from 13,703 in the same time frame in 2010.

A&E departments saw roughly the same number of patients during each three-month spell.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "The Scottish Government's Emergency Access Delivery Team are working with boards to ensure improved performance."

Labour's health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie described the figures as "disturbing". She said: "It is clear it is becoming increasingly challenging for health boards to meet this target within the current financial climate."