With hospitals cancelling non-essential operations and clinics, Dr Gregor Smith, the deputy chief medical officer for Scotland, said: “Only go to A&E if you have had an accident or you are experiencing significant difficulties such as trouble breathing or severe bleeding.”
Office staff at NHS Lanarkshire have been drafted in to take over cleaning and administrative duties at three hospitals and some GPs’ surgeries after hospital executives said “exceptional measures” were needed to cope with a surge in emergency cases.
The NHS board has cancelled elective and non-emergency procedures to ease pressure on hospitals at Hairmyres, Monklands and Wishaw. Meanwhile a newly opened flagship hospital at Dumfries put itself on red status and cancelled some outpatient clinics.
The latest data showed a 20% increase in visits to Scottish emergency departments in the week leading up to Christmas Day compared to the same period last year, driven largely by flu outbreaks.
Only 81% of patients were seen within four hours in Christmas week, and only 83% last week, short of the target of 95%.
“These figures illustrate the demands being placed on health staff right across Scotland as a result of spikes in various illnesses such as flu,” said Smith. “We can all play a part in ensuring demand on our most acute services is minimised, however, by taking time to think of the best way to access treatment.”
Anas Sarwar, Scottish Labour’s health spokesman, said the measures were evidence that the NHS was in meltdown. “Our hard-working doctors, nurses and NHS staff go beyond the line of duty over the winter break, working Christmas and New Year’s Day to save lives and keep us healthy,” he said. “But the truth is they are not receiving the resources they need and deserve to do their jobs.”
Shona Robison, the Scottish health secretary, said ministers had given NHS boards an extra £22.4m to improve resilience and were working with hospitals on dealing with A&E pressures.