Over 4,000 people waited more than 24 hours for treatment in Scotland’s A&E departments this year, according to new figures.
A total of 4,603 patients spent a day or more in emergency waiting rooms in year up to August 2023 – 126 times the number recorded in 2019.
Data obtained by the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) showed long wait times for emergency treatment began to increase “dramatically” as the country emerged from the Covid pandemic in 2021.
Senior medics branded the number “appalling” and accused the Scottish Government of failing to take serious action to avoid a repeat of the soaring rates recorded last winter.
The total for this year so far is 209 times higher than the 2019 figure of 22 during the same period, figures obtained by freedom of information (FOI) legislation showed.
It comes well before the traditional winter peak for waiting times.
RCEM vice-president, Dr John-Paul Loughrey, called the figures “completely unacceptable,” adding: “No-one should wait for 12 hours in an A&E, let alone 24 hours.
“While the data themselves are not surprising – every day we see appalling numbers of people facing long waits for care – what is shocking is the speed and scale of the increase in these waits in just a few years.
“Long waits are distressing for patients, especially the vulnerable, the elderly and those facing a mental health crisis.
“We know delays are associated with patient harm and increased mortality.
“The Government cannot ignore the fact that 24 hours in A&E has become reality and emergency care is not functioning as it should.”
Dr Sandesh Gulhane, the Scottish Government’s health spokesman, said the numbers were “atrocious,” and urged health secretary Michael Matheson to “get a grip” on the situation.
Matheson said that performance at A&E was “not where it needs to be” and that work is ongoing to bring numbers down.
Dr Gulhane said: “The crisis in A&E on the SNP’s watch is utterly terrifying and only growing more dangerous with each passing week.”
The revelations come as the latest figures show the proportion of people waiting more than 12 hours at A&E is at its highest level since March.
In the week to October 22, 5.8% of people – a total of 1,281 – attending Scotland’s emergency departments waited more than half a day.
The figure rose from 4.1% the previous week and the last time it was higher was in March when 6.5% of people waited that long.
In the same week, 65.1% were seen and subsequently admitted, transferred or discharged at emergency departments, dropping from 66% the week before, the figures showed.
The statistics represent the worst since May, when 64.3% were seen within four hours in the week up to May 14, and it has only risen above 70% in a single week once.
The proportion of people seen within eight hours (12.6%) was also the worst since early April.
The Scottish Government aims to ensure 95% of people are seen within four hours.
Scottish Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “A&E waiting times hitting their worst level since May should set alarms going in the Scottish Government.
“A&E waits did not get close to the 95% target over the summer when waits are typically shorter and now as we head into winter waits are worsening from an even lower starting point than normal.”
Matheson said: “Our winter plan will support boards to maximise capacity to meet demand and our £12m expansion of Hospital at Home will ensure people receive care at home or as close to home as possible, where clinically appropriate, to help reduce pressure on our emergency departments,” he added.
“Hospital bed occupancy continues to be a major factor impacting on performance.
“To address this, the delayed discharge and hospital occupancy action plan is being implemented at pace, delivering actions we know work to ensure patients receive the right care in the right setting.
“As a result, our significant investment of over £15m, an additional 1,000 nurses, midwives and allied health professional from overseas have joined NHS Scotland in the last two years to bolster our existing workforce this winter.
“Our £50m funding for the Scottish Ambulance Service will help tackle increased demand and support ongoing recruitment – this investment will help reduce the need for people to go to hospital.”
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