RCEM Scotland Vice President: “Emergency Departments are now a safety net for patients who have nowhere else to go”

4 February 2020

Figures released today by the Scottish Government for December 2019 reveal the continued strain on Emergency Departments across Scotland.


Data for December 2019 show that only 81.6% of patients were seen within the four-hour target in major Emergency Departments across Scotland, representing the worst four-hour performance since records began. Overall performance has deteriorated by 6.6% percentage points since December 2018.

Although December 2019 witnessed a slight increase in admissions, attendances decreased by 0.42%, which means that despite the poor performance December was the third quietest month of 2019. However, the number of patients waiting longer has increased significantly. In December 2019, 3,899 patients waited eight hours, and 1,107 patients waited twelve hours. These figures are the worst on record for Scotland’s Emergency Departments.

Annual data for 2019 shows that average four-hour performance stood at 87.33%, a decrease of 2.15 percentage points from 2018. In total the 5,156 patients waited twelve hours or more in Emergency Departments, representing an increase of 79.15% since 2018.

RCEM Scotland is holding a parliamentary reception today in The Fleming Room of the Scottish Parliament 18:00-20:00 to discuss the year-round pressures on Emergency Departments.

Dr David Chung, Vice President of RCEM Scotland said: “Historically, Emergency Departments across Scotland has always performed better than other UK nations. We are now at serious risk of losing our number one position due to poor performance.

“Long waits in the Emergency Department are not good for anyone. It compromises the quality of care we offer to our patients; we know it compromises patient safety as it is associated with mortality. It also brings anxiety and stress to clinical staff.

“These figures should sound alarm bells to all those involved in health policy. I have always asserted that poor four-hour performance is like an engine warning light, it’s designed to indicate trouble to prevent further damage to your car. Poor Emergency Department performance in Scotland tells us that there are shortcomings in capacity in other parts of the health and social care system. Sadly, that engine warning light has been flashing for some time now. Emergency Departments are now a safety net for patients who have nowhere else to go.

“We need to combat the problem of patient flow by addressing the current lack of resource and capacity across the entire Health and Social Care system. Emergency Departments cannot tackle these problems alone, it requires joint working with Health Boards, Local Authorities, Primary Care, Integrated Joint Boards and the Third Sector.

“If we continue this downward trend, we risk compromising the world-class quality of care offered by our Scottish NHS. We’re holding a parliamentary reception today to inform parliamentarians on what we need to do to maintain our coveted position ahead of the other UK nations. I would like to thank Emma Harper MSP for kindly sponsoring this event. I urge all Members of Scottish Parliament to attend, it is only by working together we can keep Scotland on top.”