By Lucy Ashton
Dumbarton MSP Jackie Baillie, deputy leader of the Labour Party in Scotland, was not for letting First Minister Nicola Sturgeon away lightly even if it was her departure day.
Ms Baillie has pressed – and pressed again – Ms Sturgeon on the vexed question of delayed discharge for patients in hospital.
And she did it again at Holyrood today when she asked the First Minister what action the Scottish Government is taking to tackle the reportedly high levels of delayed discharge, which are estimated to have cost over £161 million in 2022-23 to date.
Nicola Sturgeon told her: “Earlier this year, we allocated an additional £8 million to support health and social care partnerships to secure extra provision of 300 interim care home beds.
“To date, that has enabled 408 people to be discharged from hospitals to those placements, with a total of 633 people currently benefiting from an interim care placement.
“As part of the work of the ministerial advisory group on health and social care pressures, we continue to work tirelessly with health boards and health and social care partnerships to ensure that we are doing everything possible to support people out of acute settings and back into the community when it is clinically safe to do so.
“Delayed discharge figures have improved substantially under this Government, and it is welcome that more than 96 per cent of all people leaving hospital are discharged without any delay whatsoever.”
But Jackie Baillie was not content with that answer. She said: “Since the First Minister took office, more than £1 billion has been lost to delayed discharge. At her very first First Minister’s question time, I raised the matter of cancer treatment delays.
“In 2014, 94.2 per cent of patients started cancer treatment within 62 days, with a maximum wait of 187 days. The situation has now declined: 74 per cent of patients are starting treatment within 62 days, with a maximum wait of 326 days. Figures for achieving the 31-day and 62-day cancer treatment targets are at their worst ever.
“When the First Minister entered Bute House, 148 patients waited for more than 12 hours in accident and emergency departments; now the figure is 6,600 patients. Previously, 318,000 people were on waiting lists; now the figure is over 772,000. Some 6,200 children were waiting for access to mental health services; now the figure is more than 7,500.
Jackie Baillie – asked Nicola Sturgeon her first question as First Minister.
“Nurse vacancies have risen from 2,000 to almost 6,000. In 2014, there were just 15 excess deaths; now there are almost 4,000. Life expectancy in Scotland has gone backwards on her watch, and that is shameful. As if that were not bad enough, the First Minister gave us Humza Yousaf who is the worst health secretary since devolution.”
The First Minister told her: “On waiting times for cancer treatment, I advise members that, in the latest quarter, more patients were treated on both the 62-day and 31-day pathways compared with the figures for the previous quarter, those for the same time last year, and those for the final quarter before the pandemic. There is more to do, but progress is being made.
“Jackie Baillie’s initial question was about delayed discharge, and I will end on that. Before I do so, I reflect on the fact that Jackie Baillie asked me my very first question as First Minister, and she is today asking me—if not the final question—the final scheduled one on the order paper.
“Of course, when she asked me my first question she was standing to my left, as the principal Opposition representative; now she is on the Opposition benches to my right. That says a great deal about the verdict of the Scottish people in the intervening period. I am still standing here, in my place as First Minister, which also says a lot about the verdict of the Scottish people.
“Jackie Baillie likes to make comparisons, so, finally, on delayed discharges, I point out that, today, around 1,700 patients are classed as experiencing such delays. That is far too many but, to be clear, today, that figure includes everyone who is delayed for any period of time—even for an hour.
“When Jackie Baillie was a minister, and when her party was on this side of the chamber, 2,200 patients were delayed for more than six weeks in our national health service. That figure represented more than 70 per cent of all patients who were ready for discharge being delayed for more than six weeks when Jackie Baillie was last in Government. Today, 96 per cent of patients are discharged with no delay whatsoever.
“There is more to do, but so much progress has been made since Jackie Baillie and her party were in office.”