Nicola Sturgeon promises to get Scotland’s NHS ‘back on track’ amid ‘grave’ safety concerns

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Nicola Sturgeon has made a New Year’s pledge to get Scotland’s struggling NHS “back on track” as the alarming scale of the crisis enveloping two of the country’s largest health boards was exposed. 

In a New Year message to the people of Scotland, the First Minister promised to “do everything” to support public services and the health service “in particular recover from the pandemic.”

But her intervention came as it emerged that medics working in A&E at Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QEUH) wanted to declare a major incident this week signifying that public safety had been compromised.

A series of messages seen by the BBC said every space in the emergency department was occupied by patients waiting for a bed in the hospital, with no resuscitation beds and an eight-hour delay for ambulances offloading patients.

One read: “We are now unable to provide safe critical care.” Another said: “This is without any doubt the worst shift I’ve worked, and I’ve never been more convinced of real patient harm due to overcrowding and exit block.”

Meanwhile, NHS Grampian pleaded with staff who were on holiday over the festive period to return to work to help its hospitals cope with an “extreme level of pressure”.

Health chiefs issued the appeal on their official Twitter account, asking staff who may be on annual leave but available to work to get in touch as soon as possible.

Health and social care system ‘broken’

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHS GGC) declined the request on Thursday to declare a major incident but the call came after Dr Iain Kennedy, the chairman of the British Medical Association in Scotland, said the health and social care system is “broken”.

Dr Kennedy said that colleagues had told him the NHS in Scotland had “died already”, with “exhausted, burnt-out and broken” staff struggling to cope.

He said their pleas for help from ministers “falling on deaf ears”. Ms Sturgeon and her ministers have repeatedly blamed the pandemic for the situation but medics have criticised them for poor workforce planning, resulting in record staff shortages.

It emerged this week that A&E waiting times performance has hit a new nadir, with barely half of patients (55 per cent) being seen within the target four hours in the week to December 18.

In her New Year message, Ms Sturgeon said the pandemic had “cast a long shadow” and “its many impacts are still with us”, in addition the hardship caused by the cost of living crisis.

“So as we look ahead now to 2023, I can promise you that the Scottish Government will keep doing everything we can for those who need it most right now – while also looking to the longer term with optimism and resolve,” she said.

“We will also do everything we can to support our precious public services, helping the NHS in particular recover from the pandemic and get services back on track.”

‘Incredibly serious development’ for health service

But Labour said the severe problems at the QEUH were “an incredibly serious development which lays bare the crisis in our NHS.”

Jackie Baillie, the party’s health spokeswoman, said: “Staff at the QEUH have been put in an impossible situation and patient’s lives are being put in danger. We need action now to support our frontline NHS staff who are crying out for help.”

A spokesman for NHS GGC 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 major pressures including significant Covid, flu and norovirus cases and our staff are doing all they can to meet this demand.”

NHS Grampian wrote: “We are currently facing an extreme level of pressure across our health care system, due to the number of acutely ill patients arriving at hospital and difficulties in discharging patients to community settings.

“We are asking all staff who are not working – and may be on annual leave – but would be available to work, to contact Site and Capacity as soon as possible.”

Tess White, the Scottish Tories’ Shadow Public Health Minister, said: “This desperate plea from NHS Grampian exposes how deep the crisis is within our A&E departments.

“The sheer scale of this shocking situation has spiralled so much out of control that exhausted staff are now being asked to come in on their days off when they should be enjoying time with their families.”