National Health Service (Winter Pressures)

Question Time — Scottish Executive — Health and Wellbeing – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:15 pm on 4th December 2008.

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Photo of Duncan McNeil Duncan McNeil Labour 2:15 pm, 4th December 2008

To ask the Scottish Government how it is preparing for winter pressures on the national health service. (S3O-5091)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

The NHS is once again building on the good practice and planning of previous years to prepare for the challenges of this winter. The huge planning efforts that are being made are underpinned by record funding levels, with a health budget that is now in excess of £10.6 billion.

Photo of Duncan McNeil Duncan McNeil Labour

I note the comments that were made earlier this week about planning for the festive season. The pressures have already begun. On an icy day in my constituency this week, accident and emergency admissions to Inverclyde royal hospital shot up by 70 per cent. I am therefore concerned that plans should not cover only the festive season.

Will the cabinet secretary explain why, despite the Scottish Government's undertaking in March to achieve and maintain a level of zero blocked beds, we now have almost 100 blocked beds? That is creating substantial delays in our most vulnerable patients being discharged.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Our plans for the winter apply not only to the festive season but to the entire winter season. That is appropriate.

The Government has made clear its intention to keep delayed discharges at zero. We achieved that in April and, although there has been a slight rise since then, the level of delayed discharges is now much lower than it was in previous years under the previous Administration. However, that gives me no cause for complacency. We will continue to focus sharply on this important area.

Duncan McNeil raises a general point about winter pressures. Members know that, because of adverse weather conditions, many accident and emergency departments had their busiest ever day on Tuesday of this week. In the Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS Board area, attendances were up by as much as 20 per cent on previous highs. Despite that, more than 96 per cent of patients were still seen within the four-hour target. That was a massive achievement, and I place on record my thanks to all staff—clinical staff, management and support staff.