Nicola Sturgeon has blamed ‘unnecessary attendance’ at the hospital for the growing crisis within Scotland. Health Service. In a speech in defense of the Secretary of Health, Humza Yousaf, this morning, he said that “the hospitals at the moment are almost completely full.” Turn to Facebook and your government is running a series of ads in which the government’s chief clinical officer, Jason Leitch, advises patients to seek help online, as well as more messages saying the country is facing “unprecedented” levels of flu and covid But is Scotland’s NHS really seeing more demand than ever?
Statistics on hospital care suggest not. In the week before Christmas Day, 22,892 Scots turned up at A&E departments. But in the same week before the lockdown (which ended on December 29, 2019) there were more than 25,000 attendees. In fact, as the graph below shows, since the pandemic began, there have only been five weeks in which emergency assistance has risen above the 2019 average.
But A&E is doing worse than ever. only this morning the scotsman splattered with a warning from senior doctors that Scottish emergency departments are “not safe”. Looking at the figures it is easy to see why. Some 1,900 patients wait more than 12 hours for treatment and almost half of those who go to Scottish emergency departments are not seen within the target time of four hours.
So why is all this happening if the demand for services is lower than before the pandemic? The government aims to block beds, although according to the health secretary, the vast majority of hospital beds are occupied by people who need to be there. Many of the people that Sturgeon and Yousaf describe as ‘unnecessary aids’ will be borderline sick people. They may not be at death’s door, but if they can’t be seen by their GP and have found online and phone services as useless as many people seem, can we blame them for appearing on A&E?
Nor is it staffing. Government press officers enthusiastically noted last March that the health service’s workforce has increased every year for the past ten years. There are also more staff per capita than in England, but the two countries face almost identical problems.
Perhaps then, the people who arrive at Scottish hospitals are in worse condition than before covid arrived. Virus infections and lockdowns, which were longest and toughest in Scotland, have led to an increase in heart attacks and strokes. Cancer diagnoses fell off a cliff during lockdowns and, at one point, Scotland had the highest rate of excess deaths in Britain. It seems likely that all this is coming to a head. All the more strange then that the government wants to discourage the use of the health service again.
Sturgeon’s words could prove dangerous. We know that any policy that discourages the use of the service only accumulates problems for the future, even if it provides short-term relief. The SNP can’t just blame the winter bugs, either. BMA Scotland vice president was clear on this over the weekend saying: ‘This is not due to the flu. This is not due to covid. It is definitely not the fault of any patient or “unnecessary” care.’ But once again, the SNP seems intent on kicking the can down the road.