Nicola Sturgeon apologises to NHS patients with lengthy waits
‘No blanket cancellation of non-urgent procedures in Scotland’
A&E - John Garghan
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has apologised to patients who have had long waits for medical services this winter.
Her words were echoed by Health secretary Shona Robison during a visit to Perth Royal Infirmary.
NHS Scotland had faced “exceptional” pressures over the festive period, Sturgeon said.
Official figures show the number of people attending A&E in the week leading up to Christmas was a fifth higher than last year, which led to some health boards postponing routine operations.
In NHS Lanarkshire office staff volunteered to support clinicians with the upkeep of wards, while the NHS 24 helpline saw its greatest ever volume of calls.
Family doctors, too, have reported an increase in volume, with some opening special surgeries at the weekend to cope.
In an interview on BBC radio this morning, Sturgeon said she “would apologise unreservedly… to any patient who is not seen as quickly as we would want”.
She added a rise in flu cases and adverse weather conditions had been behind the rise.
Robison said later: "Any patient waiting longer than they should to be seen and treated within the NHS, I would apologise for that.
“But I think the public understand that we are in exceptional circumstances here and I have had lots of messages from the public saying staff, in the face of huge pressures and challenges, have done a tremendous job.”
Robison distanced the Scottish NHS from news from NHS England that all non-urgent elective care and routine outpatient appointments would be cancelled until 31 January.
“Individual boards will respond to pressures they are facing in line with winter planning. In some cases, this may involve deferral of outpatient or elective treatment. However, people across Scotland should be reassured that there is no blanket cancellation of non-urgent elective procedures for the month of January as is the case elsewhere in the UK,” she said.
People are being advised to seek the help of a pharmacist or the NHS Inform website for minor ailments in an attempt to ease pressure on emergency departments and GPs.
The Scottish Conservatives said the government had failed to increase the number of people getting the flu vaccination.
Shadow health spokesman Miles Briggs said: “The SNP was warned about the dangers of a flu crisis this winter. All the signs were there. They knew vaccination rates were dropping.
“Yet despite our repeated calls for action, they failed to act in time to protect more people, and support our NHS.”
Labour’s health spokesman Anas Sarwar said: “Sorry from the First Minister just isn’t good enough for patients and NHS staff failed by the SNP government this winter.
“These were not unforeseen circumstances. Our NHS faced a similar crisis last winter, yet the SNP overtly failed to make the preparations necessary to avoid another winter meltdown.”
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