NHS Fife board members heard on Tuesday that waiting times have been on the rise and key waiting lists have grown as a result of a significant increase in the number of COVID patients linked to rapid transmission of the Omicron variant.
Staff absence is also causing real concern across the region, with October’s sickness absence rate of 6.34% far higher than the 4% or less benchmark.
The latest available figures presented to the board made for grim reading for members, although NHS Fife chief executive Carol Potter suggested there are signs things have been improving since the turn of the year in particular.
According to the October update, almost a quarter of patients turning up at accident and emergency (23.7%) were forced to wait for over four hours between arrival to admission, discharge or transfer, missing the nationally set target of 95% for patients to be seen in fewer than four hours.
Only around two third of patients were treated within 12 weeks of a decision to treat, well below the 100% target, while the percentage of patients waiting less than 12 weeks from referral to a first outpatient appointment stood at 56.5% - again, down on the 95% target.
Indeed, the outpatient waiting list in October stood at 21,721, which was 44% higher than in October 2019 pre-COVID.
The number of bed days lost due to patients in delay similarly continues to rise and stood at 10.4% in October - more than double the 5% target.
Ms Potter stressed that a number of measures are being taken to ease the strain on services - but all the while with a focus on delivering “person-centred and safe” care to patients and supporting staff’s health and wellbeing.
“We operate in an integrated system of health and social care, and pressure on any one service or more will have a consequential impact in other parts of the system,” she said.
“This is particularly true in relation to the level of demand and capacity in our Acute Hospitals, Community Hospitals, Primary Care, Care Homes and Care at Home.
“Our NHS and Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP) teams manage the flow across the pathways from primary care to acute services to community and vice versa on a daily basis, creating capacity where that is possible and agreeing service changes and other interventions where that is necessary.
“This is a dynamic and continuous process which operated pre-COVID but which has increased in complexity as a consequence of the often, unpredictable impacts across of the system of the levels of transmission and waves of the pandemic.”
Ms Potter admitted the last few months had been “difficult”, but said the health board was beginning to see a “few glimmers of hope”.
There were a few areas of improvement recorded in October, with Fife’s falls rate being at its lowest level since June and the time taken to resolve complaints at its best level since April.
In addition, it has now been 18 months since Fife’s Cancer-31 DTT performance - seeing cancer patients within 31 days of a decision to treat - fell below the 95% standard.