Accident and Emergency (A&E) attendances have plummeted to the second-lowest level recorded while thousands are still having to wait more than four hours to be seen, the latest NHS Scotland figures show.
A total of 80,423 patients visited an A&E department in February, 47,918 fewer than the same month last year – before coronavirus was discovered in Scotland.
Only April 2020 – the first full month of lockdown – recorded fewer visits to emergency wards, when 65,117 patients attended.
February also experienced the second-lowest percentage of patients seen within the Scottish Government’s four-hour target time during the pandemic.
Statistics published by Public Health Scotland reveal that 13.8% of patients had to wait longer than four hours, exceeded only by January’s 14%.
According to the figures, 1,786 (2.3%) patients spent more than eight hours in an A&E department before being seen, then either admitted to hospital, transferred or discharged.
A further 483 (0.6%) patients faced a wait of more than 12 hours.
NHS Borders had the worst-performing A&E departments by waiting time, with less than three quarters of patients (74.7%) seen within the target time, followed by NHS Ayrshire and Arran (81.1%) and NHS Lothian (81.8%).
Meanwhile, 98.2% of patients were seen within four hours in Shetland, followed by Tayside and the Western Isles (both 96.7%) and then the Highland and Orkney regions (both 93%).
Asked about the latest figures at the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing, the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said: “Our increasing focus now is on remobilising and recovering the NHS to start to bring down the waiting times and the backlogs that have been created by Covid.”
Scotland’s national clinical director, Professor Jason Leitch, said: “January/February is always a bit of a perfect storm for A&E staff, patients and families.
“Two things combined: winter, the normal January/February numbers; but also, lest we forget, a second wave of Covid-19, which causes challenges both at the front door, but also downstream inside the hospital, inside the wards where we’ve had to have beds available for Covid-19 patients – and hundreds of them, during that period.”
Mr Leitch added: “A&E staff have performed heroically during that period, the teams that have put themselves in that front line, have done very, very well during that period.
“They are tired, but I wouldn’t describe that as the reason for some of these long waits.”
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Donald Cameron said: “While Covid cases were rightly being prioritised by our hospitals, it is highly concerning to learn that thousands of patients were waiting over four hours to be seen at A&E departments.
“It is clear our hospitals simply didn’t have enough support to treat emergency patients quickly while also dealing with another wave of Covid admissions.
“Even though there was an understandable focus on those hospitalised by the virus, it is worrying to see such a drop in patients attending A&E.
“Although the Covid situation is now significantly better, there must be a clear message that the NHS is always open for everyone to be treated.
“SNP ministers must also ensure our heroic frontline staff have the resources required in order to guarantee patients will be treated as soon as possible upon arriving at hospital.”
Enjoy the convenience of having The Sunday Post delivered as a digital ePaper straight to your smartphone, tablet or computer.
Subscribe for only £5.49 a month and enjoy all the benefits of the printed paper as a digital replica.Subscribe