nicola sturgeon has made a New Year’s promise to get Scotland’s NHS “back to normal” when the alarming scale of the crisis affecting two of the country’s biggest health boards was exposed.
In a New Year’s message to the people of Scotland, the First Minister promised to “do everything possible” to support public services and the health service “in particular, to recover from the pandemic”.
But his intervention came when it became known that doctors working in A&E at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow (QEUH) wanted to declare a major incident this week, which means that public safety has been compromised.
A series of messages seen by the BBC said that every space in the emergency department was taken up by patients waiting for a hospital bed, with no resuscitation beds and an eight-hour delay for ambulances to unload patients.
One read: “Now we can’t provide safe intensive care.” Another said: “This is without a doubt the worst shift I have ever worked, and I have never been more convinced of the real harm to the patient due to overcrowding and exit blocking.”
Meanwhile, NHS Grampian has asked staff on holiday over the festive period to return to work to help its hospitals cope with an “extreme level of pressure”.
The health chiefs issued the appeal on their official Twitter account, asking staff who may be on vacation but available for work to get in touch as soon as possible.
‘Broken’ health and social care system
NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHS GGC) turned down a request on Thursday to declare a major incident, but the call came after Dr Iain Kennedy, president of the British Medical Association in Scotland, said the social care system and health is “broken”.
Dr Kennedy said he had been told by colleagues that the NHS in Scotland had “already died”, with “exhausted, burned out and broken” staff struggling to cope.
He said his pleas for help from ministers “fall on deaf ears”. Ms Sturgeon and her ministers repeatedly blamed the pandemic for the situation, but doctors criticized them for poor workforce planning, resulting in record staff shortages.
News broke this week that A&E’s wait-time performance has hit a new low, with just half of patients (55 percent) seen within the four-hour target in the week through December 18.
In her New Year’s message, Ms Sturgeon said the pandemic had “cast a long shadow” and “its many impacts are still with us”, in addition to the hardship caused by the cost of living crisis.
“So as we look to 2023, I can promise you that the Scottish Government will continue to do everything they can for those who need it most right now, while looking to the long term with optimism and determination,” he said.
“We will also do all we can to support our precious public services, helping the NHS in particular to recover from the pandemic and get services back on track.”
‘Incredibly serious development’ for health service
But Labor said the serious problems at QEUH were “an incredibly serious development that lays bare the crisis in our NHS”.
Jackie Baillie, the party’s health spokeswoman, said: “QEUH staff have been put in an impossible situation and the lives of patients are in danger. We need action now to support our NHS frontline staff who are crying out for help.”
An NHS GGC spokesperson said: “We have an escalation policy that would allow us to declare any major incidents and we closely monitor the safety of our departments and patients at all times and keep this under close review.”
“Our services, like the whole of Scotland, are facing great pressure, including significant cases of covid, flu and norovirus, and our staff are doing everything they can to meet this demand.”
NHS Grampian wrote: “We are currently facing an extreme level of pressure on our healthcare system, due to the number of acutely ill patients arriving at hospital and the difficulties in discharging patients into community settings.
“We ask all staff who are not working, and may be on annual leave, but who would be available for work, to contact Site and Capacity as soon as possible.”
Tess White, the Scottish Conservatives’ shadow public health minister, said: “This desperate plea from the NHS Grampian exposes how deep the crisis runs within our A&E departments.
“The magnitude of this shocking situation has gotten so out of hand that exhausted staff are now being asked to come in on their days off when they should be enjoying time with their families.”