Accident and Emergency Waiting Times

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 14 March 2024.

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Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

6. To ask the First Minister what urgent action is being taken to address long waits in A and E departments, in light of reports that over 7,300 patients waited for more than a day in 2023, with some waiting much longer. (S6F-02918)

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

I emphasise that all long waits are unacceptable. We continue to work hard with health boards to reduce delays for patients.

A and E performance is impacted by pressures from right across the wider health and social care system, which is why our unscheduled care collaborative programme is taking a whole-systems approach as we work with health boards in delivering sustained improvement. Through the programme, a range of actions is being taken to improve patient flows in order to reduce A and E delays. Those include actions to strengthen arrangements to avoid unnecessary hospital admissions, such as same-day emergency care services; expanding our hospital-at-home services; and optimising flow navigation centres. Those actions support patients, to ensure that they receive the right care in the right place while also reducing pressure on our very busy acute sites.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

I thank the First Minister for his response, but in NHS

Ayrshire and Arran, one patient waited at A and E for 122 hours—that is five days. At Borders general hospital, the wait was 88 hours. In NHS Lanarkshire, someone waited more than 72 hours. Consultants—I repeat, consultants—tell me that patients are being treated on trolleys in corridors when they should be in a bed.

Let us be in no doubt that the long waits are costing lives. The First Minister does not have to take my word for it—the Royal College of Emergency Medicine estimates that up to 2,000 excess deaths were caused last year by patients waiting more than eight hours in emergency departments. Frankly, that is a national scandal. What action will be taken now to tackle long waits at A and E departments before more lives are lost?

The First Minister:

I do not dispute, with either Jackie Baillie or the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, that there is a relationship between long waits and increased risk of harm. There undoubtedly is, which is why we are absolutely committed to reducing those waits.

Some of the figures that were presented in the response to the freedom of information request were erroneous, not due to anything that Jackie Baillie has said but, I believe, due to some coding or recording errors. Nonetheless, Jackie Baillie remains correct that there are still—exceptionally, and not as the rule—people waiting far too long to be seen in A and E.

Jackie Baillie asked what action we will be taking. I am happy for the Cabinet Secretary for NHS Recovery, Health and Social Care to write to her in greater detail, but I can tell her now some of the actions that we are taking.

We are bolstering our support for NHS 24. We know that doing so can reduce the number of people who go to A and E. In fact, we have increased NHS 24 staffing levels by 65 per cent since 2007, and it is now a 24/7 service.

We are also expanding hospital at home. Leading into this winter, we provided 455 beds to enable more people to get treatment from home.

We are also increasing the A and E workforce to help with staffing levels. We are recruiting more and more A and E consultants to help with patient flow. In fact, there has been a 300 per cent increase in the number of A and E consultants under the Scottish National Party.

Another thing to which I would draw Jackie Baillie’s attention is that we are looking to support social care, because we know how important that is for dealing with the delayed discharge issue. In a few weeks’ time, those who work in social care will get a further pay rise from the Government of £12 an hour.

Photo of Sandesh Gulhane Sandesh Gulhane Conservative

I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests; I am a practising NHS general practitioner.

As a GP, I see people who cannot wait in the A and E queue any longer. They come to me with chest pain and they come to me with signs of stroke, because they do not want to get into that queue. That puts huge pressure on me in general practice and on primary care. What can the First Minister do for us in primary care to ensure that we can deal with those patients?

The First Minister:

I thank Dr Gulhane for the work that he does as a GP and, of course, I thank GPs across the country.

We are seeking to improve A and E performance, which has undoubtedly been impacted by the pandemic. That pressure is faced by A and E services across the UK. That is why we continue to seek to improve A and E performance. Scotland’s A and E departments are the best performing in the UK and have been for eight years.

On the support that we are providing, we are looking to ensure that we can take some pressure away from busy acute sites and busy primary care sites. That is why we are investing in NHS 24, hospital at home and increased staffing levels. We have a target to increase the head-count number of GPs and we have continued to make progress in that regard.

The Presiding Officer:

We move to constituency and general supplementary questions.