Highlighting health concerns

On Friday I attended the quarterly MSP briefing from NHS Lothian.

The meetings are an opportunity for the people who run health services in the region to report back to MSPs on the work they are doing and for MSPs to highlight key issues. 

Over the last few months I have been working on a number of areas of concern regarding NHS Lothian and I sought an update on progress.

At an organisational level, I asked for an update of what action has been taken by the Board to address the bullying culture identified by a recent report.  The report described the threatening and hostile working environment in some parts of NHS Lothian that undermined the work that staff are doing to care for patients.

I also raised the issue of the increased incidence of attacks on staff by patients and visitors.  Information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act found that attacks are on the increase leading to claims that doctors and nurses are increasingly being used as ‘punchbags’ by some members of the public.   You can read the response from NHS Lothian to my questions on this issue here.

We also heard an update on action to address the waiting times scandal that emerged throughout the first half of this year.  A review of patient management conducted by PwC earlier in the year identified that patients’ records were being altered inappropriately to disguise breaches of waiting times targets.

Alongside these waiting time targets, I also have concerns about A&E services which I raised.  Recent official statistics revealed that more than 1100 patients had to wait more than eight hours to be seen by a doctor at the region’s A&E units in the last year.  Of those patients, 130 had to wait over 12 hours to be assessed. These patients deserve better than being left waiting for hours on end.   

I was told that every incident of a patient waiting over 12 hours triggers a specific investigation to identify what the circumstances were.  It was suggested that although action is being taken to address the situation there remains a capacity issue in terms of availability of beds.

Lack of capacity is clearly a major issue for the health board.  At my request, the next MSP meeting will discuss a paper on the demographic pressures our health services in Lothians face.  The population of the region is continuing to grow and there are many people living longer.  That means that there are pressures on maternity and children’s services as more children are being born in the region while at the same time there are also larger numbers of older people needing a variety of care. 

As more people live longer this could mean for example more people needing operations not just for hip replacements but replacements to those replacements, more people experiencing dementia or Alzheimer’s and pressure on availability of care services because of the huge financial pressures on local authorities resulting from the SNP’s underfunding of the Council Tax freeze. 

The meeting updated MSPs on the Legionnaire’s outbreak and I made my views known that there needed to be a proper inquiry so that there could be an opportunity for lessons to be learned and people’s questions answered.

Finally I raised concerns about the impact of delays in building the long awaited new Sick Kids Hospital.  A recent inspection of the existing hospital found evidence of good practice in a number of areas and this is to be welcomed.

Importantly however, what the inspection did not consider was the overall state of the hospital building itself.  It has long been acknowledged that the building is not fit for purpose and we are still five years away from having a new hospital.  However there’s a huge maintenance backlog not just in NHS Lothian but across the country.   I’ll now be raising the issue of maintenance in the Parliament.

It has been almost two years since the Scottish Government decided against public funding for the new Sick Kids hospital and I’ve been pressing for decisive action to get going on the project.  We were told that agreement has been reached with the PFI contractor to get access to essential land.  The next stage is for NHS Lothian to move to advertise for bidders.  As the project is being carried out under the SNP Government’s Futures Trust scheme banks will need to come forward with funding for the project.