Health Secretary Humza Yousaf must “answer for his job” as new figures show compliance with the four-hour A&E waiting time standard has again fallen to the worst level on record.
According to statistics released by Public Health Scotland, just 71.5% of people who went to A&E in the week of September 12 were seen and subsequently discharged or admitted to hospital within four hours.
The Scottish Government’s target is 95%.
The figure fell further from the week before, when 74.6% of those who attended A&E were dealt with in four hours.
Scottish Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton has described the figures as “horrific”, adding: “Behind each and every one is a person in pain, and a team of staff struggling to help them. Even in the midst of this crisis, these figures are astonishing.”
Mr Cole-Hamilton went on to say the problem has been “years in the making”.
“Health care professionals cannot simply be conjured out of thin air when the going gets tough. It takes years to put them in place, because they are highly qualified and well trained,” he said.
“The Health Secretary had been warned that emergency care was crumbling, and yet after a month of record-breaking waiting times things still aren’t improving.”
With the release of the figures coming hours before Mr Yousaf makes a statement to parliament announcing steps being taken to ease the crisis in the ambulance service – including drafting in staff from the fire service to drive ambulances – the Lib Dem leader said action must be taken on A&E waiting times as well.
“The pressure in the ambulance service and in A&E departments is deeply intertwined, and so as the Health Secretary comes to parliament today he must answer for his job and offer an apology to patients, families and staff,” he said.
“Something seismic needs to be offered to turn this around.”
Some 1,895 people out of the 27,354 who went to emergency departments in Scotland in the week of September 12 – 6.9% – spent more than eight hours there.
A further 551 (2%), spent more than 12 hours in A&E.
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “The Covid pandemic has inevitably affected A&E attendance and the pressure is being felt across the UK. Scotland’s core A&E departments continued to outperform those in the rest of the UK for more than six years.
“Our NHS staff have faced unprecedented pressures over recent weeks as they work tirelessly and consistently to respond to the pandemic whilst continuing to provide vital treatment and optimal patient care.
“We are in daily contact with every board and are monitoring the situation closely. As part of the NHS recovery plan we have committed £27 million towards the redesign of urgent care to ensure people receive the right care, at the right place and avoid unnecessary hospital attendance.”
She added: “We are working closely with those sites facing the greatest challenges to ensure rapid recovery plans are in place and are in contact daily.
“To support improvements in emergency and urgent care waiting times we are working with health boards and their partners through our unscheduled care improvement programme to improve flow through the hospital by ensuring effective processes are in place to reduce the length of time people need to spend in hospital and ensure they are discharged as soon as they are medically fit.”
Scottish Tory public health spokeswoman Sue Webber said: “Week after week, Humza Yousaf has completely failed to get on top of this situation, and it is patients who are paying the price.
“The response to this crisis has been pitiful. A flimsy pamphlet doesn’t come anywhere close to outlining the money and resource that is needed to support A&E departments who are completely overwhelmed.
“It is time Humza Yousaf produced a proper plan to remobilise our health service and give a guarantee that patients will be treated at A&E as quickly as possible.”
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