Lives are being “put at risk” as Scottish patients waited up to 40 hours to receive emergency hospital care at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, figures show.
Health Secretary Humza Yousaf has been urged to take action to support struggling accident and emergency (A&E) staff who are at risk of burnout, while combating the “absurd” waiting times.
The data obtained by the Scottish Liberal Democrats through a series of freedom of information (FOI) requests reveals the longest number of hours waited by any person attending A&E in 2020/21.
Patients across the country waited more than a day to be seen in an emergency in a number of Scotland’s NHS health boards, according to the statistics.
The longest wait revealed in the FOI from 12 of Scotland’s 14 health boards was patients in Ayrshire and Arran spending up to 39 hours and 41 minutes in A&E departments.
Meanwhile, Lanarkshire patients waited up to 30 hours and seven minutes to be admitted, while patients in Lothian spent more than 29 hours in A&E.
The lowest wait times were in Orkney – two hours and 25 minutes, Shetland – eight hours, and Forth Valley – nine hours and eight minutes.
NHS Western Isles did not receive the FOI request, while miscommunication meant NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde closed the request, the Liberal Democrats have said.
Party leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said the waiting times are a “disgrace”.
He added: “Nobody should spend almost two days in A&E. Emergency care is woefully understaffed.
“When NHS staff are exhausted, patients’ lives are potentially put at risk.
“We are facing the consequences of 15 years of SNP neglect of our health service.
“We need urgent action to prevent a staff exodus by looking after staff in the way they have looked after us.
“If burnout means people leave, the recruitment crisis will become much worse. It takes years to train health professionals, so we desperately need to keep the people we have.”
The research comes as the Royal College of Emergency Medicine reported A&E delays have contributed to 240 avoidable deaths this year.
The Scottish Liberal Democrats urged the Scottish Government to back their proposals of a “burnout prevention strategy” and a health and social care staff assembly to resolve the issues in A&E.
Mr Cole-Hamilton added: “So far this SNP/Green Government has failed to put in place a proper NHS recovery plan and even refused to back Scottish Liberal Democrat proposals for a burnout prevention plan to alleviate the burden on staff.
“Instead they are pushing a divisive independence referendum and leaving our NHS to fall into disrepair.
“The Health Secretary must stop using the pandemic as an excuse. It is time to deliver the necessary resources to support staff and avoid these absurd waiting times.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Despite the continued pressure from the pandemic on hospitals and services, more than two-thirds of patients are being seen in our A&E departments within the four-hour target.
“We want people to get the right care in the right setting, and for many A&E will not be the most suitable place for their healthcare need.
“People should consider whether their condition is an emergency, such as a stroke, heart attack or major trauma, before going to A&E.
“Our new Urgent and Unscheduled Care Collaborative programme, which is supported by £50 million of funding, looks to support the implementation of a range of measures to reduce A&E waiting times and improve patient experience, this includes alternatives to hospital-based treatment.
“Scotland continues to have the best performing A&Es in the UK, outperforming those in England, Wales and Northern Ireland for over six years.”
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