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‘Terrifying’ triage waiting times a symptom of A&E chaos

More than 650,000 A&E patients in Scotland waited longer than the recommended 15 minutes for an initial assessment last year, according to “terrifying” new figures obtained by the Scottish Conservatives.

Those attending emergency departments are supposed to be ‘triaged’ within a quarter of an hour of arrival, so that staff can identify and prioritise the most serious cases – such as patients suffering chest pains.

But responses from Scotland’s health boards to Scottish Conservative Freedom of Information requests, reveal the huge scale on which that goal – recommended by both the Royal College of Emergency Medicine and the NHS in England – is being missed.

In total, 654,438 patients had to wait longer than 15 minutes to be triaged by NHS staff in 2022 – with one patient in NHS Lanarkshire kept waiting an astonishing 15 hours.

On average, patients across Scotland had to wait around 36 minutes to be triaged, while only two of the 14 health boards – Orkney and the Borders – had average times within 15 minutes.

Shadow health secretary Dr Sandesh Gulhane said the “unacceptable” stats were indicative of the chaos in Scotland’s overstretched A&E wards, which is leading to record overall waiting times being set on a regular basis.

Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary Dr Sandesh Gulhane MSP said: “These terrifying and unacceptable stats put Scotland’s A&E crisis in sharp perspective.

“Triaging is the first – and arguably most important – stage of patients’ passage through our emergency wards. It’s a potentially life-saving assessment that allows medics to prioritise and treat the most seriously unwell patients immediately.

“For those with severe chest pains, a delay to them being triaged could be the difference between dying from a heart attack or surviving.

“Modelling by experts tells us that, currently, 60 people are dying every week because of excess A&E waits in Scotland – and in many cases that will start with delays to them being triaged.

“The fact that such a colossal number of patients are not being triaged quickly enough is a symptom of the crisis in A&E that sees records for overall waiting times broken on almost a weekly basis on Humza Yousaf’s watch.

“This failure is the product of both his flimsy Covid and winter recovery plans and years of dire workforce planning by successive SNP health secretaries, which has left Scotland’s A&E wards dangerously short of emergency doctors and nurses.

“These unacceptable delays are not restricted to A&E though – as recent alarming stats on waits for NHS 24 calls to be answered indicate.

“The health secretary’s failure to get a grip on the crisis is leading to lives being needlessly lost. He has lost the confidence of dedicated frontline staff and suffering patients alike, which is why Nicola Sturgeon must sack him.”

Notes

 

Triage is an initial health assessment that should be made within 15 minutes of a patient’s arrival at A&E. NHS England guidance states that patients should be triaged within 15 minutes of arrival at an emergency department. The guidance, which builds on and replaces a similar recommendation from the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM), states ‘Patients should be assessed promptly by locally agreed processes within 15 minutes of arrival.’ (Initial Assessment of Emergency Department Patients, February 2017, link; Guidance for emergency departments: initial assessment, 12 August 2022, link).

In 2022, someone waited over 15 hours to be triaged in Lanarkshire. An individual waited 906 minutes before they were triaged, 60 times higher than the target triage time. (Scottish Conservative FOI, Available on Request, 11 January 2023).

 

On average, patients across Scotland had to wait around 36 minutes to be triaged in 2022. Only 2 of Scotland’s 14 health boards had average triage times within the 15-minute target, Orkney and Borders. (Scottish Conservative FOI, Available on Request, 11 January 2023).

 

In 2022, Over 650,000 patients had to wait longer than 15 minutes to be triaged. 654,438 were forced to wait over 15 minutes before they were assessed by NHS staff. (Scottish Conservative FOI, Available on Request, 11 January 2023).