Emergency – Ward 10 becomes the back of an ambulance during the crisis in Scotland.
By Bill Heaney
Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said the SNP Health Secretary Humza Yousaf has shown himself thoroughly incapable of taking on the challenge of resuscitating the rapidly collapsing NHS in Scotland.
“Winter is looming – if action is not taken now we risk a humanitarian crisis in A&E departments,” the Dumbarton MSP, right, told parliament.
“The SNP must act now to prevent further casualties at the hands of their inept health secretary.”
This attack came even after it had been revealed that the NHS in Scotland will recruit 1,000 new staff to help the health service cope this winter, the health secretary has said.
Humza Yousaf said more than £8m would be invested in recruiting 750 additional nurses, midwives and health professionals from overseas.
NHS boards will also hire 250 more support staff across acute, primary care and mental health.
The Conservatives described the plans as “completely inadequate”.
The government’s Health and Social Care Winter Resilience plan sets out £600m of funding for the coming months.
It comes after summer waiting times at Scotland’s A&E departments were the worst on record, according to new figures.
Mr Yousaf said new recruitment would be a welcome boost to staff and health boards ahead of what is anticipated to be an “extremely challenging” winter.
He also outlined an additional £45m of funding for recruitment in the Scottish Ambulance Service, as well as measures to help health boards retain staff.
The health secretary told MSPs the measures would ensure “people get the right care they need at the right time and in the most appropriate setting”.
He added: “NHS Scotland’s staffing and funding is already at historically high levels, but as we approach the winter period it is crucial that we look to maximise, and enhance where we can, the capacity of the NHS.
“Given the scale of the escalating cost of living crisis, combined with the continued uncertainty posed by Covid and a possible resurgence of flu, this winter will be one of the most challenging our NHS has ever faced.
“These measures will support winter resilience across our health and care system. We will also expand our workforce, particularly registered nurses to assist with the expected increase in workload.”
Analysis by Claire McAllister, BBC Scotland health producer
With such little give in the health system and unprecedented demand, there is no shortage of warnings on how hard it is going to be for the NHS in the coming months.
The health secretary’s winter plans were never going to offer a magical solution.
Additional funding for new staff will be welcomed by health boards, but recruitment has been a long-standing challenge in health and social care. It comes at a time when doctors’ and nurses’ unions warn of fears people could leave these professions early because of sustained pressures and pay disputes.
There is also no escaping that A&E waiting times performance hitting a new low during the summer indicates a more widespread crisis in the NHS.
In part, this is down to shortages in social care which means high numbers of people are unable to be discharged from hospital, leaving less capacity to admit new patients.
The flow of patients in and out of the hospital isn’t working well enough to keep up with the volume of people who need care.
This is the backdrop as winter is on our doorstep, a time when demand for health services traditionally increases.
The Scottish Conservatives said doctors and patients who are “at their wits’ end” would receive little comfort from the government’s winter plans.
The party’s health spokesman Dr Sandesh Gulhane said: “The health secretary offered no solutions to the crisis in our A&E departments.
“He made no mention of dentistry whatsoever in his speech, despite warnings that NHS dentistry in Scotland is on the verge of collapse.
“And he boasted about his government’s action on delayed discharge, despite the latest statistics showing that bed blocking remains at almost record levels.”
He added: “Scotland’s NHS is already at breaking point, and if this is all the health secretary can muster, then we are in for a terrifying winter.
The government had earlier faced criticism over the record high waiting times at A&E.
The monthly stats for August show 69.7% of patients were dealt with within the four-hour target.
The figure was just slightly down on the previous month which was also among the worst since comparable records began more than a decade ago.
The Scottish Conservatives said it was “chilling” to imagine the state of A&Es when winter comes and Labour said Scotland was at risk of a humanitarian crisis if action was not taken.
The Scottish government target for accident and emergency waiting is for 95% of patients to be admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours.
In August 2019, the summer before the pandemic, more than 90% of patients were dealt with in the target time.
This year, the monthly figures for August show that despite fewer people attending A&E, the number waiting longer than four hours rose massively to 41,112 patients.
Of the 135,532 people who went to A&E for help that month, 12,969 were there for eight hours or more.
There were 4,967 patients who spent more than 12 hours in A&E – the highest monthly total on record. By contrast, in August 2019 it was just 354.
The performance against the A&E target is monitored both weekly and monthly.
The latest figures showed in the week-ending 25 September that two-thirds of patients (66.3%) were dealt with in the target time.
This was just slightly above the record low for week-ending 11 September (63.5%).
However, the length of A&E waiting times often depends on where you live.
Scotland’s bigger hospitals, which attract the largest number of patients, are struggling the most.
Forth Valley Royal was the worst performing A&E in the week-ending 25 September, with 39.6% of people seen within four hours.
The figure for Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary was 43.5% and Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, right, was 54.3%.
The health secretary urged people to “consider whether their condition is an emergency” before heading to A&E.
Mr Yousaf said: “As we enter the winter period, it is crucial that people consider whether their condition is an emergency, such as a stroke, heart attack or major trauma, before going to A&E.
“Local GPs and pharmacies can be contacted during the day for non-critical care, NHS 24 is also available on 111 for non-emergencies.”
Meanwhile, the Lib Dems are angry that Health Secretary refuses to apologise to health and social care workers for NHS crisis
During the Health Secretary’s statement this afternoon on NHS winter planning, Mr Cole-Hamilton asked Mr Yousaf whether he would offer a “profound apology” to health and care workers.
Rather than apologise, Mr Yousaf instead urged Mr Cole-Hamilton for “solutions,” despite the SNP voting down two Liberal Democrat proposals, including an urgent inquiry into avoidable emergency care deaths and a burnout prevention strategy for NHS staff.
Speaking in Parliament this evening and responding to the BMA Scotland survey which found that 49.8% of junior doctors are considering leaving the profession, Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “It is astonishing to me that it was a full 10 minutes before the Cabinet Secretary acknowledged that there was any kind of problem in the NHS.
“So much of this relates back to staffing. It’s been staring this government in the face for years.
“Last week, a whistleblower told me that the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary operates routinely with 80 fewer nurses than it needs on every single shift.
“Just moments ago, the BMA released research showing half of junior doctors are thinking of leaving the profession altogether. Demoralised, undervalued, exhausted.
“Will the Cabinet Secretary take this opportunity to offer the health and care workers, whom he rightly thanks, a profound apology?”