Scotland’s struggling accident and emergency departments are showing “some signs of stabilisation” in recent weeks, new Health Secretary Neil Gray has said.
He spoke as the latest weekly figures showed some improvement in A&E waiting times, with 63.5% of all patients seen and either admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours.
That is up from 62.8% the previous week – but continues to be significantly below the Scottish Government target of 95%.
The latest Public Health Scotland data, for the week ending February 4, showed that 25,212 people who went to A&E for medical help, 15,999 were admitted, transferred or discharged within the four hour target time.
There were 9,213 patients who waited longer than that – with this down from 9,421 the previous week.
Meanwhile, 3,482 patients spent eight hours or more in A&E in the week ending February 4 – with 1,483 there for more than 12 hours.
Both these totals, however, were lower than the previous week.
Mr Gray, who took over as Health Secretary on Thursday in a reshuffle prompted by the resignation of Michael Matheson, said while waiting times “are longer than we want them to be for some patients” he hoped there would be some easing of the pressure in “weeks to come”.
The Health Secretary said: “We recognise that the system remains under sustained pressure, and waiting times are longer than we want them to be for some patients.”
But he insisted: “Despite this, there are some signs of stabilisation across the system in recent weeks, and we hope to see pressure easing in weeks to come.”
Mr Gray said performance in A&E was “impacted by pressures from across the wider health and social care system”, with difficulties discharging patients from other parts of hospitals often affecting waits in A&E departments.
The Health Secretary said, however, that the Government’s unscheduled care collaborative programme was “taking a whole system approach as we work with Health Boards to deliver sustained improvement”.
He said: “Hospital bed occupancy continues to be a major factor impacting on performance.
“To address this, the delayed discharge and hospital occupancy action plan is being implemented at pace, delivering actions we know work to ensure patients receive the right care in the right setting.”
According to the data, four hospitals treated less than half of patients in A&E within the four-hour target time.
At the Forth Valley Royal Hospital in Larbert, 44.3% of patients in A&E were admitted, transferred or discharged within this time; staff at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow achieved this for 44.6%. At Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, 45.4% of A&E patients were admitted, transferred or discharged inside four hours; with staff at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh achieving this for 48.9%.
Scottish Labour health spokesperson Dame Jackie Baillie said: “We might have a new health minister but it is clear that we have the same old chaos in our A&E departments.”
She added: “Neil Gray inherits an NHS plunged into disarray by the failures of successive SNP health ministers.
“While staff work tirelessly to save lives, the SNP has indulged in a revolving-door policy with health secretaries leaving post long before they got to grips with the crisis.
“Neil Gray must show now why he has what it takes to succeed where so many – including Humza Yousaf – have failed.”
Scottish Conservative deputy health spokesperson Tess White said the latest waiting times figures “expose the crisis” Mr Matheson had “left behind in Scotland’s A&E departments”.
The Tory MSP hit out: “Despite the best efforts of frontline staff, the shocking norm on the SNP’s watch is over a third of A&E patients waiting over four hours to be seen.
“That is not simply a matter of inconvenience, we know it leads to needless deaths.
“After nearly 17 years of SNP mismanagement of our NHS, it is clear that the latest health secretary Neil Gray cannot repeat the mistakes of his predecessors.”
Similarly, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “The new health secretary must not allow these dire waiting times in Scotland’s A&E departments to continue to simply be the new normal.
“Staff and patients need to see real action from this Government.”