In the Chamber: FMQs – asking for assurances that NHS 24 would be able to cope with phone calls over the festive period

MSP questions First Minister over NHS 24’s ability to cope over Christmas
Scottish Labour’s Shadow Health Minister to-day asked Nicola Sturgeon for assurances that NHS 24 would be able to cope with phone calls over the festive period.

David Stewart, a Highlands and Islands MSP, was highlighting the out-of-hours medical hotline’s recent warning that some patients with ‘less serious symptoms’ could wait more than its three hour call back target if it does not have enough staff.

At First Minister’s questions, Mr Stewart asked what “assessment the Scottish Government had made of the capacity of NHS 24 to deal with demand over the Christmas period”.

Afterwards he said: “Last year people will remember how hospitals and clinics were stretched to the limit due to soaring flu rates.

“This year patients need assurances that they will get the best advice as early as possible and not be left hanging on for a call from experts who are at the front line of our out-of-hours health service.

“Those who appear to have less serious symptoms could progress to more serious illnesses if they are forced to wait for a long time.”

In the chamber, he told Nicola Sturgeon that last Christmas saw unprecedented burdens on our hard-pressed frontline NHS staff.

“For many Scots who are elderly, have chronic health problems, or a disability –and have little family support – the festive season is a time for anxiety and concern, not celebration,” he explained.

“Can the First Minister reassure Parliament today that vulnerable people should not have to wait for hours for a response from NHS 24? Can they rely on a festive gift of timely support – they deserve nothing less.”

Nicola Sturgeon replied that NHS 24 had submitted its final winter plan on 31st October and it was assessed and signed off on 16th November.

She said that 70% of calls processed by NHS 24 were handled without any requirement for a call back to patients and if there was a call back clinical priority determined the time frame when the call took place.

The First Minister said the demands on health boards increased over the winter and festive period and higher numbers of staff were now being taken on. The number of call-handlers and nurses on Boxing Day this year would be 458 compared to 395 last year.