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Office staff take on cleaning duties as A&E demand soars 

NHS Lanarkshire says the 'exceptional' measures were taken as units were 'inundated'.

Wishaw General: Hospital was one of three affected (file pic).
Wishaw General: Hospital was one of three affected (file pic). © G Laird

Office staff at a health board were redeployed as cleaners when A&E departments were "inundated" over the festive period.

NHS Lanarkshire said Hairmyres, Wishaw and Monklands hospitals had all experienced soaring demand in recent weeks, prompting the "exceptional" measures.

The board's office-based employees were asked to consider volunteering to help their colleagues in hospitals and GP practices by taking on cleaning and administrative roles over the next five days.

According to bosses, the response to the request was "tremendous".

Chief executive Calum Campbell said: "This is an unparalleled situation in Lanarkshire and exceptional circumstances need exceptional measures to enable us to deliver our number one healthcare priority - patient safety.

"We asked our office-based staff to consider volunteering to suspend their 'day-job' to support their clinical colleagues, bearing in mind our key purpose and commitment as an organisation to care for people who need our help.

"Not surprisingly, we've had a tremendous response, which demonstrates the strong team spirit that exists within the NHS."

Elective or non-urgent procedures were due to resume at the three hospitals on Wednesday but have now been postponed for the rest of the week due to the increased pressure on services.

'This is an unparalleled situation in Lanarkshire and exceptional circumstances need exceptional measures to enable us to deliver our number one healthcare priority - patient safety.'
Calum Campbell, NHS Lanarkshire chief executive.

Figures show that across Scotland waiting times in A&E units remained below a key target in the week before Christmas as demand rose by almost 20% on the previous year.

In the week ending December 24, 83.3% of patients were seen and either admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours, against a target of 95%.

The figure represents a slight increase from 81.1% the previous week and is down from 93.5% on the same week the previous year.

A total of 26,569 people visited A&E during the week, up almost 20% from the 22,267 attendances in the same week in 2016.

The Royal Hospital for Children in Glasgow experienced a 44% increase in attendances while the city's Queen Elizabeth University Hospital had a 26% rise.

Wishaw, Raigmore, Borders and Inverclyde hospitals also had increases of more than 25%.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said its frontline teams had also reported an increase in patient numbers, with cases of respiratory conditions and norovirus particularly experiencing upticks.

The health board asked patients to use emergency services responsibly, adding that some 999 response times at the the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow had been delayed by people parking in designated ambulance bays.

Additional paramedics have also been brought in to help cope with the extra workload.

A Scottish Ambulance Service spokesperson said: "We are working with our NHS colleagues to manage demand pressures on the system and have deployed additional paramedics to assist with hospital turnarounds at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital Glasgow.

"Winter is an extremely busy time of year for the ambulance service and the NHS more widely and we will continue to work as a collective with our health board partners to manage increased demand."

NHS Lothian said it was monitoring the situation closely, adding that "due to current pressures it has been necessary to reschedule some elective procedures".

NHS24 has also reported a spike in call volume over the festive period.

Health secretary Shona Robison said: "Our NHS and community health service do a fantastic job all year round but there is no doubt that winter can bring additional demands, and I'd like to thank them once again for the dedication they have shown during this busy winter period."

Deputy chief medical officer Dr Gregor Smith said: "These figures illustrate the demands being placed on health staff right across Scotland as a result of spikes in various illnesses such as flu. 

"We can all play a part in ensuring demand on our most acute services is minimised, however, by taking time to think of the best way to access treatment. 

"Only go to A&E if you have had an accident or you are experiencing significant difficulties, such as trouble breathing or severe bleeding."

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