'Terrifying snapshot' of A&E pressures revealed in new figures

On its busiest day over the summer months, the A&E department was over capacity by 104 patients.

‘Terrifying snapshot’ of A&E overcapacity pressures revealed in new figures from NHS Lothian iStock

Edinburgh Royal Infirmary’s accident and emergency department operated beyond capacity every day last month, new figures from a freedom of information request have revealed.

Routine hourly checks by staff show that the hospital’s A&E capacity of 40 patients was exceeded throughout August – and on average by 200%, or 80 patients, at any given time.

On its busiest day over the summer months – August 15 – the department reported looking after 144 patients, meaning it was over capacity by 104.

The NHS Lothian figures also showed that, since the start of 2022, Edinburgh Royal Infirmary’s emergency department has, on average, been beyond capacity for 22 hours per day.

The health board also confirmed that those patients waiting to be seen are typically kept in corridors on trolleys or chairs, or asked to sit – and in exceptional circumstances stand – in the waiting room.

The FOI request was submitted by the Scottish Conservatives, who said that similar capacity issues have also been reported in A&E departments at Edinburgh’s Royal Hospital for Children and Young People, Western General Hospital, and St John’s Hospital in Livingston over the summer.

Scottish Conservative health spokesman, Dr Sandesh Gulhane, has urged for action before “more lives are needlessly lost” due to excess delays.

He has warned he is “certain” the over-capacity issues are “not unique to NHS Lothian”.

Dr Gulhane said: “These stats provide a terrifying snapshot of the unbearable strain frontline A&E staff are operating under in Scotland.

“I’m certain that the over-capacity crisis they reveal is not unique to NHS Lothian, because we know how bad waiting-time figures are in emergency wards across Scotland.

“But it still beggars belief to think that there was not a single moment last month when Edinburgh Royal staff weren’t battling to clear a backlog of emergency patients.”

He added: “No wonder waiting times are the worst on record when staff are constantly stretched beyond breaking point. And the tragic reality is that these excess delays lead inevitably to avoidable deaths.

“The buck stops with Humza Yousaf and the SNP Government for this crisis, and they must not attempt to shift the blame.

“Our dedicated NHS workers are burning out. Both A&E staff and patients are being let down by the SNP’s dreadful workforce planning, which has left Scotland’s A&E wards dangerously under-staffed for years.”

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said: “I recognise A&E departments, including NHS Lothian, are working under significant pressure and I am grateful for their continued efforts as we recover from the pandemic, which is still affecting services.

“As I have made clear, the latest A&E performance is not where it needs to be. A letter has issued to boards setting out immediate actions to ensure immediate performance recovery and I will meet with the boards facing the most challenges next week to discuss further support to their improvement plans.”

Dr Tracey Gillies, medical director at NHS Lothian, said: “Our emergency departments have been experiencing sustained and extreme pressure.

“Increased demand for services, high volumes of patients presenting with complex and serious cases, high occupancy rates and staff absence – combined with ongoing pressures across all aspects of the healthcare system – has meant that our emergency departments have been extremely busy, with often long waiting times for patients to be see or for ongoing admission.

“Despite these challenges, our teams remain committed to delivering high quality and safe patient care.”

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