THE number of patients waiting over a year for an operation has continued to increase, as figures show elective activity on the NHS remains well below pre-pandemic levels.

It comes amid record A&E waits and warnings from health chiefs in NHS Lanarkshire that bed shortages have “become a patient safety issue”.

The latest statistics for Scotland show that 73,589 planned procedures were carried out between April and the end of July this year, compared to more than 101,200 over the same period in 2019 - a reduction of 27 per cent.

HeraldScotland: Elective activity - planned inpatient and day case procedures - have remained largely static for the past year (Source: PHS)Elective activity - planned inpatient and day case procedures - have remained largely static for the past year (Source: PHS)

Although there was a small improvement in July, the figures covering the first four months of 2022/23 - which had been billed as year one of the NHS remobilisation - also show that the number of patients undergoing an elective procedure remain 1% down on the same period in 2021.

The Scottish Government’s NHS Recovery Plan, published in August last year, had envisaged an extra 27,500 inpatient and day case elective procedures taking place on NHS Scotland during 2022/23 - equivalent to a 10% increase on pre-pandemic activity.

ANALYSIS: Can we really say the NHS is in recovery from Covid when the numbers of planned operations have barely changed?

Successive Covid waves - driven by increasingly transmissible Omicron strains - have been blamed for slowing efforts to clear treatment backlogs by causing staff absences and reducing bed availability.

However, shortfalls in social care have also exacerbated the problem. Figures for July show a record 1,828 beds per day being “blocked” by patients well enough to leave hospital, but who are delayed - typically for around three weeks - due to the lack of a care home place or social care package.

HeraldScotland: The number of beds lost to delayed discharge rose to a new record high in July (Source: PHS) The number of beds lost to delayed discharge rose to a new record high in July (Source: PHS)

Meanwhile, figures on waiting lists, also published by Public Health Scotland, show that the number of people who have been waiting for an inpatient or day case procedure on the NHS for over a year had increased to 35,359 by the end of June this year - up by more than 4000 since the end of March.

The number who had been waiting over two years had reduced slightly - by 356 - over the same period, to 10,066.

Pre-pandemic, in March 2020, there were only 98 patients in Scotland on inpatient and day case lists who had been waiting over two years.

In July, the Scottish Government had set a target to eradicate nearly all two-year waits for inpatient and day case treatment by the end of August.

READ MORE: Fewer operations in 2022 compared to 2021 - amid delays to new elective hubs

However, a majority of health boards - with the exception of Tayside, Highland and Forth Valley - said they did not expect to meet that deadline.

Pressure on A&E departments - a red flag for lack of bed availability in hospitals - also worsened in July, with figures showing that a record 4,483 patients spent over 12 hours in emergency departments.

That compares to 784 in July 2021, and an average of 99 pre-pandemic.

Dr John-Paul Loughrey, vice chair of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine Scotland, said the figures “should ring alarm bells to all political and health leaders”.

He added: “The depth and scale of this crisis is deeply concerning. Patients are already coming to harm, a consequence of long and dangerous waiting times.

"These data must be a call to action, especially as winter is fast approaching."

HeraldScotland: The number of patients been seen, treated, and discharged or admitted within the four-hour A&E target fell to a new low in July (Source: PHS)The number of patients been seen, treated, and discharged or admitted within the four-hour A&E target fell to a new low in July (Source: PHS)

Judith Park, director of acute services at NHS Lanarkshire, said all three of the region's hospitals have been over-capacity for weeks and the situation facing its A&E departments "has become even bleaker at the start of this week, with patients waiting in excess of 12 hours to be seen and assessed due to the overwhelming demand".

She added: “Once these patients are eventually seen, a lack of bed capacity and the lack of flow through the hospital means there is additional pressure in admitting these patients who require emergency care in an overcrowded setting.

"When we experience an exceptionally high rate of emergency admissions, we work as a clinical network to divert some patients to another NHS Lanarkshire hospital where it is clinically appropriately to do so.

"However, this hasn’t been possible due to the pressures being faced across all three sites.

“Given the current situation in our hospitals, this has become a patient safety issue."

READ MORE: NHS Ayrshire buys private hospital in bid to clear orthopaedic backlogs

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said health boards are working to clear backlogs "as quickly as possible", and stressed that the statistics on elective care show that "patients with the greatest needs were treated quickest".

He added: “We recognise the impact long waiting times can have and this is why we announced ambitious waiting times targets in early July to address the backlog of planned care and are working hard with NHS Boards to maximise capacity in order to meet these."