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RCEM Scotland Vice President: “Admitting patients into a hospital bed in a timely manner has become frequently unachievable”

5 January 2021

Figures released today by the Scottish Government for November 2020 reveal the continued and growing strain on Emergency Departments across Scotland.

Data for November 2020 show that 88.5% of patients were seen within the four-hour target in major Emergency Departments across Scotland, a marginal improvement on 0.2 percentage points compared to the previous month. This represents the third worst performance since the start of the pandemic.

Attendances in November 2020 decreased by 6.6% or 6,091 patients. Despite this, the number of patients waiting longer has increased. In November 2020, 1482 patients waited eight hours or more, and 305 patients waited twelve hours. These figures represent the largest number of long waits since the beginning of the pandemic.

Dr John Thomson, Vice President (Scotland) of RCEM said:

“As a specialty, we have become accustomed to anticipating crowding and long waits in our departments and the pressures that come with the colder months. We are unacceptably familiar with this phenomenon and November was no different.

“With Covid still endemic in hospitals and the community, crowded departments pose an even greater risk. Long waits in the Emergency Department are not good for anyone. It compromises the quality of care we offer to our patients; we know it compromises patient safety as it is associated with mortality. It also brings anxiety and stress to clinical staff. The pressures of winter 2020/21 are likely to be the toughest we have ever experienced.

“Currently, with in-patient services not resourced to match demand, admitting patients into a hospital bed in a timely manner has become frequently unachievable. As a result, we are experiencing lengthy ambulance queues outside our EDs as there is not enough capacity to offload the patients. There are patients having to be cared for in ambulances outside the department. Not only is this inhumane but it also means is that ambulances cannot be released back into the community.

“Since the start of the pandemic, there has been a decrease of over 400 available staffed beds in the system in Scotland. Even once this capacity is restored the College has estimated that Scotland still needs an additional 639 staffed beds to achieve safe bed occupancy rates. Today we have published our Scotland Manifesto for the upcoming Holyrood Elections. In this, we delineate actions that the incoming Government must take imminently and in the long term in order to ensure that Scotland is able to deliver world-class emergency care.

“We need to combat the problem of patient flow by addressing the current lack of resource and capacity across the entire Health and Social Care system. Emergency Departments cannot tackle these problems alone, it requires joint working with Health Boards, Local Authorities, Primary Care, Integrated Joint Boards and the Third Sector.”

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