Number of patients dying after long hospital wait more than doubles

In 2018, 281 patients died after waiting in excess of the target response time. But by 2022, that had increased to 743.

Number of patients dying after long hospital wait more than doubles iStock

The number of people dying after waiting more than four hours to be seen in Scotland’s A&E departments soared between 2018 and 2022, statistics have revealed.

The data, obtained by the Scottish Conservatives under freedom of information laws, showed the number increased by 164% across the four-year period.

In 2018, 281 patients died after waiting in excess of the target response time. But by 2022, that had increased to 743.

The Scottish Conservatives warned the true death toll could be “far higher”, pointing out that four health boards did not reply to the party’s freedom of information requests.

The health boards which declined to give freedom of information requests were: Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Ayrshire and Arran, Grampian and Lanarkshire.

The figures from the ten health boards in Scotland that responded showed that a total of 1,965 people died after waiting more than four hours in A&E across the time in question.

More than half of the deaths occurred at hospitals operated by the NHS Lothian health board.

Hospital Standardised Mortality Ratio (HSMR) data are reported quarterly to allow understanding of deaths that occur within 30 days of admission to hospital.

NHS Lothian said patients who died in the emergency department were not included in these statistics.

NHS Lothian added that it did not necessarily mean the deaths were avoidable, and the figures were intended to stimulate further reflection and investigation.

Dr Tracey Gillies, medical director for NHS Lothian, said: “The Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh is the busiest and largest hospital in NHS Lothian and provides local and regional services, as well as one of the major trauma centres, for some of the sickest and most seriously injured patients in south-east Scotland.

“Our teams are committed to continually provide safe and effective patient-centred care.

“The HSMR is a useful statistical tool which is intended to provide predictions around the number of deaths in hospital and provoke further reflection and investigation.

“Our teams will now carefully consider the data used to create those predicted numbers to make any changes and if necessary carry out a further review.”

Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary Dr Sandesh Gulhane hit out at the SNP over the “tragic and ultimately avoidable deaths”.

He said: “After 16 years in government, the SNP are clearly out of ideas when it comes to fixing the issues in our NHS.”

He called upon Health Secretary Michael Matheson to follow the Scottish Conservatives’ vision for the national health service.

He added: “These tragic and ultimately avoidable deaths are a consequence of an NHS that has become permanently overwhelmed on the SNP’s watch.

“Dire workforce planning by successive SNP health secretaries has had a devastating impact on Scotland’s health service, and despite the best efforts of my dedicated colleagues on the frontline, our A&E departments are bearing the brunt of these failings.

“The SNP have missed their own waiting-time targets for more than three years and remain miles off doing so.

“Each death is someone’s friend or loved one. Suffering patients are paying the ultimate price for Humza Yousaf’s inaction as health secretary.

“His replacement, Michael Matheson, must finally get to grips with this crisis and address wait times to prevent further heart-breaking, unnecessary deaths.

“We urgently need a fresh approach that incorporates the Scottish Conservative vision of a modern, efficient and local NHS.”

The Scottish Government said it understands performance is “not where it needs to be” and is committed to lowering the waiting times for patients in A&E.

A spokesperson said: “We fully recognise that longer waits in A&E are detrimental to patient outcomes which is why we remain committed to delivering improved A&E performance.

“Performance against the four-hour target has stabilised. However, we know performance is still not where it needs to be and we are working closely with the health boards facing the greatest challenges in A&E, to drive down waiting times and improve services for patients and staff.”

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