Has 'bad' become the new normal when it comes to NHS Scotland A&E figures?

It’s the time of year when the NHS in every nation is put under immense pressure.

The cold, flu, Christmas etc all add to increased demand and staff are stretched to their limit.

It’s also the time of year when the service publishes statistics each week detailing how well or how badly hospitals are doing at keeping to government targets.

This week I’m in Scotland. The Scottish government publishes its stats every Tuesday, last week they came out, there was little pick up because they "weren’t that bad" and the NHS went on providing its service.

But has "bad" just become the new normal?

More than 900 patients had to wait longer than 12 hours in November, which is a record high. Credit: PA

When I say they weren’t that bad, I mean relatively speaking.

All the A&E targets were missed, 987 patients had to wait longer than 12 hours in November which is a record high and 85.5% were treated within four hours; the target is 95%.

On their own those figures are appalling and a few years ago patients, doctors, officials and ministers would have been up in arms but not today.

Why? Because it’s worse elsewhere in the UK and bluntly, we’ve all got used to it.

  • ITV News Health Correspondent Emily Morgan on the latest figures:

Last week I was in Wales and visited the Royal Gwent Hospital in Newport.

Only 58% of its patients were see within four hours in A&E in November last year, that is shocking and not one of the patients I spoke to there was surprised, many had been waiting 12 hours themselves.

Across Wales the figure stands at 74.4% and in England, just 79.8% were seen within four hours in December, down from 86.5% in 2018.

81.8%

Of patients were seen within four hours on the week ending 12th January in Scotland.

The Scottish figures on Tuesday "aren’t bad" again, especially when you compare them to the Welsh and English stats.

For the week ending on the 12th January, 81.8% of patients were seen within four hours but 349 patients had to wait more than 12 hours - that's double the number than the week before, and not "good".

You’d think the same old problems apply to Scotland: demand is high, hospitals are full and staffing is an issue.

What is going on in Scotland which means hospitals are "coping better" though?

Staffing is an issue for many hospitals in Scotland. Credit: PA

It’s true to say demand is high in Scotland, more than 25,000 people went to A&E during the second week of January, that’s a lot.

But there are more beds in Scottish hospitals, in general bed occupancy is lower which means patients can be moved out of the emergency department much quicker.

This might be down to hospitals simply having more beds or the fact there is a better social care system in Scotland - it’s better funded and personal care is free so it’s easier to send elderly patients home.

Staffing is also an issue, but some say not as big a crisis as in England.

25,000

People went to A&E during the second week of January in Scotland.

Currently there are around 4,000 nursing vacancies in Scotland, compared to 44,000 in England and Wales.

There are warnings of a doctor shortage in Scotland which could turn into a crisis but the country isn’t there yet.

I’m not saying things in Scotland aren’t bad, they are.

The NHS in all four nations is struggling to cope but when one country appears to be doing better it’s right to ask why.

What Scotland doesn’t do well in is planned operations.. so the answer might well be that the NHS in Scotland has different priorities.

I’m off to spend the day in A&E at an hospital just outside Glasgow now, I will see first hand just how "good" it is and report back very soon.

Scotland's Health Secretary, Jeane Freeman, said: "Scotland’s core A&E departments continue to be the best performing in the UK and have been for more than four and a half years despite experiencing continued high attendance levels. Looking at comparable time periods, in the last 12 months we saw more patients within four hours than in any other year since 2012.

“We recognise that there are areas where improvement is needed and we continue to work closely with those health boards facing the greatest challenges.

“This year we are investing nearly £20 million to support improvements in unscheduled care all year round.

"That includes £13.4 million to ensure quality of care, patient safety and access to services are maintained over the winter period."

In a statement, the Information Services Division (ISD) said: "The information includes trends in the number of attendances and performance against the 4 hour emergency access standard (time of arrival to the time of discharge, transfer or admission to hospital).

"There are 91 locations providing A&E services across Scotland. Of these, 30 are classed as Emergency Departments - larger A&E services that typically provide a 24 hour emergency medicine consultant led service."