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Humza Yousaf: NHS in Scotland facing ‘exceptionally difficult’ winter

Scottish Health Secretary Humza Yousaf warned there could be a difficult winter (Andrew Milligan/PA)
Scottish Health Secretary Humza Yousaf warned there could be a difficult winter (Andrew Milligan/PA)

The NHS in Scotland is facing an “exceptionally difficult winter”, the country’s health secretary has said.

Humza Yousaf said the “high possibility” of another wave of Covid-19 and the possible resurgence of flu will place extra pressure on the health service in the winter months, along with the usual issue of slips, trips and falls.

It comes after waiting time performance at Accident and Emergency (A&E) departments hit a new record low in figures published this week, with just 63.5% of patients seen and subsequently admitted or discharged within four hours in the week up to September 11, figures Mr Yousaf said were “not acceptable”.

Mr Yousaf said he wants to see “immediate improvement” in waiting times but that he expects difficult months ahead.

He told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “I will set out to parliament, subject to parliamentary business being agreed in the next fortnight, what our winter plan will be and yes, we are anticipating a really difficult winter, an exceptionally difficult winter because we expect that we might get a resurgence of flu which we haven’t seen in the last couple of years and there is a high possibility we suspect of course of another Covid wave, and then there’s the usual issue of slips, trips and falls.”

Mr Yousaf said that capacity is the most significant issue facing hospitals, and that pressure on social care is making it harder to deal with delayed discharges.

He said his statement to parliament will lay out what action will be taken over the course of a “really difficult” winter.

He said: “So our focus, without giving away the details of that parliamentary statement, unsurprisingly will be on how we increase and expand the workforce to deal with those really difficult pressures but also how we invest in that social care.

“Because we need to get those delayed discharges, as many of them out of the system as possible, back into their homes and into their communities so that we can deal with those capacity issues in our hospitals.”

A Scottish Government target aims to ensure 95% of people attending emergency departments are seen within four hours, a standard not hit since the early days of the pandemic when the number of people going to A&E dropped drastically.

The figures published on Tuesday show that the number of people waiting more than eight hours in the week up to September 11 was 3,367 – a new high.

Dr John-Paul Loughrey, of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine Scotland, said the figures were not acceptable.

He warned that the delays in the week for which latest figures have been published could cost 40 lives.

He told BBC Good Morning Scotland: “It’s estimated from literature across the world that emergency department delays are associated with increased mortality, and some recent evidence pointed towards a one in 82 figure for every patient who spends more than six to eight hours in an emergency department.

“To give you some illustration of that in Scotland there were about 3,400 patients who spent more than eight hours in an ED (emergency department) in the week-ending statistics we’ve just seen which means that we could estimate that 40 additional lives will be lost because of these delays, within the 30 days.

“It’s mortality at 30 days and that’s not just dying within emergency departments, that’s the increased risk of mortality, and that’s with a number of factors.

“That’s an association because of patients who are spending long times on hospital trolleys not receiving the care that they require in downstream wards and in other inpatient settings, that’s delays in people being able to access the emergency departments to see the nurses and doctors that work there, and that’s in the poor quality of care that can be offered in dangerously overcrowded emergency departments.”

He called for urgent action to tackle the problems.