THE expectation of NHS boards to meet accident and emergency waiting time targets during the winter months has been blasted by a Fife health chief.
Dave Stewart, chairman of the health authority’s operational division, said the target of at least 98 per cent of patients waiting no longer than four hours at accident and emergency was “unrealistic” during the winter.
But Dr Gordon Birnie, medical director, told members of the operational divison committee last week that the target was needed at all times of the year to protect patient safety.
Mr Stewart – pictured – spoke of the “ever increasing demand on services and resources”.
He said: “When I see the demand in the system, particularly during the winter, I have to say I’m arriving at the conclusion that any government that seriously expects the A&E four hour target to be met in winter time is in denial about what’s happening in the NHS, not just here but across Scotland because every board is struggling to meet this.
“I think the government maybe needs to look at that target and flex it during the winter.”
Figures for last September, in the lat
est published data, show that NHS Fife was meeting the 98 per cent target after the figure fell to around 83 per cent at the end of 2011.
Dr Birnie said waiting times had deteriorated again since the last meeting, and there had been “a number of 12 hour breaches” of the target. He also dismissed Mr Stewart’s idea that national targets should be ‘flexed’.
He said: “The thing with the Scottish Government targets is that they are clearly linked to patient safety.
“I think we have to struggle to meet that target and our staff are working very hard to get that. Again we have experienced the usual difficulty in a system that is very finely balanced.”
The main reason patients are kept waiting in A&E is due to a lack of available beds.
Dr Birnie said there has been the usual seasonal demands and an increase in admissions, particularly patients with respiratory difficulties.
George Cunningham, acting director of acute services, added: “Clearly this winter has been a challenge for the whole of Scotland and we need to understand what the issues were collectively.
“We need to take stock as a whole not just in terms of this board and understand what other things we could do so that we can adjust our plans for next year.”