MORE than one in 10 acute hospital beds was occupied by patients ready to be discharged in March.

Figures from Public Health Scotland show that patients - most of them frail elderly or with special needs - were delayed by an average of three weeks waiting for social care packages or care home places.

This was "largely due to infection control measures" which mean that Covid positive patients cannot be sent into care homes, and care homes with active outbreaks cannot admit new residents.

HeraldScotland:

Home care packages also tend to be suspended whenever the recipient is admitted to hospital, and can takes weeks - or months - to reinstate with councils or other providers.

According to PHS, there were an average of 1,729 patients a day in hospital in March with a "delayed discharge", equivalent to around 13 per cent of NHS Scotland's12,800 acute beds being avoidably lost.

Inside Scotland's A&E crisis: 'It's not unusual for patients to wait days for a bed'

The number of patients delayed, and the extra time spent in hospital, were both up from February 2022 and coincided with the BA.2 Omicron wave which saw a record 2,406 Covid positive patients in hospital by early April.

The knock-on effects were seen in emergency departments, where an all-time high of 4,128 patients spent over 12 hours on A&E trolleys in March waiting for a hospital bed to become available.

HeraldScotland: The four-hour target stipulates that 95% of patients should be seen, treated, and discharged or admitted within four hours, but many are waiting much longerThe four-hour target stipulates that 95% of patients should be seen, treated, and discharged or admitted within four hours, but many are waiting much longer

There were 130,188 attendances at A&E services in Scotland - the highest number since September last year.

Dr John Thomson, an emergency medicine consultant and Vice President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) Scotland, said: “There are immense pressures on our health system.

"Patient safety is compromised, staff are burnt out, ambulance services are severely struggling, and Emergency Departments are dangerously over-crowded.

"Opening 1,000 beds in the health system in Scotland and addressing the staffing crisis in social care is urgently needed to begin to tackle the current situation and to move patients appropriately and timeously through the system.”

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The number of Covid positive patients - who have to be isolated in separate wards - has halved over the past four weeks, to 1,265, but A&E is still logjammed because beds are not being freed up fast enough in the hospital amid ongoing staff shortages in social care.

In the week ending April 24, 653 patients spent over 12 hours in A&E waiting to be transferred onto a ward. Before the pandemic, such extreme delays were rare, even in winter.

HeraldScotland:

The squeeze on acute beds is also continuing to hamper efforts to tackle the waiting list backlog, with the number of elective operations scheduled during March still 20% lower compared to February 2020.

Nonetheless, the percentage of operations being cancelled on the day, or the day before they were due to take place, is now 9.6% - the highest since the pandemic began.

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Dr Sandesh Gulhane said the figures were "deeply concerning", adding: "We need to get back to more than pre-pandemic capacity to catch up and start to clear the enormous surgical backlog."

Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: "Lives are being lost because of people being left stranded at A&E waiting for urgent help.

"The lack of bed capacity in hospitals due to delayed discharge is having a direct impact on waiting times at A&E."

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A Scottish Government spokesman said: "Significant additional funding has been allocated to support social care, including £62 million to enhance care at home capacity; £48 million to increase the hourly rate of pay; £40 million to provide interim care arrangements; and £20 million to enhance multi-disciplinary teams.

"Funding is also being used to rapidly scale up Hospital at Home services, which aim to reduce acute admissions and support timely discharge. We have also invested in innovative services that aim to care for more people at home."