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NHS struggling with June COVID surge as operations cancelled and A&E waiting times spike

NHS struggling with June COVID surge as operations cancelled and A&E waiting times spike

New figures out today have revealed that the number of cancelled operations is at its highest level since the pandemic began.

According to the data from Public Health Scotland, between May and June 2021, as COVID cases increased, and large numbers of staff were forced to self-isolate, the number of scheduled elective operations cancelled increased by almost 30 per cent. 

During the same time period, the number of operations cancelled by hospitals based on capacity or non-clinical reasons increased from 274 to 417.

Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Alex Cole-Hamilton said it was time for the Scottish Government to publish their plan to remobilise the NHS: “These new figures show that even though life feels more normal, NHS services are under more pressure than ever.

“No hospital will be taking the decision to cancel operations lightly. Staff know it means more discomfort and pain for patients. But services are straining, and with too few resources clinicians are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

“Staff are already knackered after bearing the brunt of the pandemic. The Scottish Government have to find a way to show them a light at the end of the tunnel. That means meaningful support for those on the front line, with new clear targets and a comprehensive NHS recovery plan.”

The figures also showed that A&E waiting times in June were the second-worst since records began. figures show.

Just 85 per cent of the 136,847 patients attending A&E in June were admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours, while 20,466 others had to wait for longer than the target time.

That includes 2,396 (1.8 per cent) patients waiting for more than eight hours and 532 (0.4 per cent ) people stuck in casualty for more than 12 hours.

While attendances at A&E are higher than during the first lockdown, when patients stayed away, mindful of the need to “protect the NHS”, the numbers are still down on pre-pandemic levels. 

The data from Public Health Scotland (PHS) also showed a stark increase in the number of delayed discharges. A total of 37,136 bed days were lost in June, despite patients being well enough to leave hospital – the highest figure since March last year.

The figure is a 57 per cent increase from the same time last year and 5 per cent higher than in May.

Scottish Conservative health spokeswoman, Annie Wells, said: “Accident and emergency waiting times are at their worst level in almost two years. The number of people waiting far too long for treatment is alarming.

“The number of planned operations being cancelled at the last minute has also reached the highest rate in months, leaving patients in the lurch.

“Humza Yousaf seems to be totally oblivious to the escalating predicament facing our frontline NHS staff.”

She added: “Prior to the pandemic, the SNP were routinely missing key targets, and despite everything Scotland has been through, this abysmal record is getting worse rather than improving.

“SNP ministers should urgently back Scottish Conservative plans for an extra £600 million investment in our NHS to specifically tackle waiting times.

“The SNP Government need to up their game to ensure our fantastic NHS staff are properly supported to give patients the healthcare they deserve.”

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “The whole health and social care system has faced significant pressure due to the pandemic and its wider impact, but frontline staff have been tremendous in delivering care.

“As we emerge safely from coronavirus restrictions we are seeing pent-up demand coming through the system with many of those ready to leave hospital now requiring a far more extensive package of care to be in place before they can be discharged.

“Staffing capacity is also under pressure as a result of self-isolation and sickness, along with the traditional increase in leave during the summer months.

“We are actively seeking to address these pressures with the launch of a national recruitment process this week, liaising with local authorities and wider health and social care partners and aiming to get more students in to help.

“Disclosure Scotland has also agreed to fast track its clearance processes for new entrants into the social care workforce.

“Despite these pressures, current numbers of delayed discharge days remain significantly below the level seen before the pandemic. The 37,136 figure for June this year is down 12 per cent on the 42,252 for June 2019.

“To ensure best practice on discharge planning, arrangements are being taken forward across the country, the minister for mental wellbeing and social care will be chairing a new implementation group to help deliver further improvements.

“Decisions about care and treatment should always be clinically based, in the individual’s best interests and taken in consultation with the individual or their families and representatives. It is not a decision that the Scottish Government either directs or makes.”

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