HELENSBURGH residents have praised local NHS staff as hospitals across Greater Glasgow and Clyde found themselves facing a festive season “winter meltdown”.

But the pressures faced by A&E departments across the area have sparked new calls for a casualty facility to be reintroduced at the Vale of Leven Hospital.

The scenes at the out-of-hours service at the Vale were at odds with those reported by patients of A&E departments at some Glasgow hospitals, including at the Royal Alexandra in Paisley.

The Facebook page run by local campaign group 'Save the Vale' was inundated with posts from people complaining bitterly about waits of eight hours or more before they or family members were seen by doctors or admitted to NHS GG&C hospitals.

As the scale of the situation became apparent, Jane Grant, the chief executive of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, and the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon issued an apology to those patients who had experienced lengthy waits.

Lynsey Munro, 37, took her 12-year-old son to the out-of-hours service at the Vale of Leven hospital on Christmas Eve because he had a severe cough, high temperature and tonsillitis.

Lynsey headed to the hospital expecting a long wait, and when she arrived the waiting rooms for both the medical assessment unit and the out-of-hours GP service were “full to bursting” – but she was seen quickly.

While some people reported waiting up to eight hours at the Royal Alexandra Hospital emergency department in Paisley for a bed, Lynsey and her son were seen after just an hour and a half.

Lynsey told the Advertiser: “We arrived as a walk in patient having not contacting NHS 24. I expected to have to wait a considerable amount of time but we were called in around an hour and a half.

“There were three GPs working tirelessly to see all of the patients which were of mixed age and with a range of symptoms from vomiting to chesty coughs.

“Every time the waiting area began to quieten there would be another influx of patients.

“The out-of-hours GP is not a service I have used often but due to it being the festive period and not having access to my own GP until the Wednesday I was glad that I was able to do so.

“Many patients had said that they had called NHS 24 and it had taken up to four hours for them to be called back.”

Lynsey’s son was put on a week’s course of antibiotics and was on the mend by New Year.

She said: “I thought the staff from the receptionists to the GP’s coped really well.

“Our experience was a positive one but I can understand the frustration of others who were not so fortunate to be dealt with as quickly.

“Had we not have been able to use the service at the Vale of Leven it would have been a long and awkward journey to Glasgow. This facility is well utilised and we need it to stay open.

“We are lucky to have maintained this facility so far and it really is a valuable service, which many of us have relied upon over the festive period.”

Another Helensburgh resident, Jen Sims, was taken to the Vale by ambulance on December 21 and December 22 after she suddenly took unwell.

The 40-year-old said despite more people attending hospital over the festive period, she too had no issues with the care she received.

She told the Advertiser: “Staff did seem very busy and frustrated at the hospital and I did notice the waiting area was very busy, but as I was in an ambulance I was taken straight through.

“I think the service generally managed well as staff were clearly rushed and both the ambulance crews and the first responder, five staff members in total, were absolutely fantastic.”

West Scotland MSP Maurice Corry, of the Scottish Conservatives, praised hard-working hospital staff and called for a “sustainable solution” to protect services at the local hospital.

He said: “The NHS and staff work tirelessly throughout the year and continue to do so over the festive period when additional pressures are put on the health service.

“We have seen numerous cases of delays, cancellations and increased waiting times within A&E departments.

“By closing local A&E departments such as the Vale of Leven, it increases waiting times at remaining hospitals such as RAH.

“The staff at the Vale of Leven Hospital are fantastic as many local residents have commented and I thank them for the work they’ve done and continue to do. “I constantly speak of the benefits the VoLH provides and work towards finding a sustainable solution to benefit the area and residents.”

Elsewhere, however, lengthy A&E waiting times at the RAH and Queen Elizabeth University Hospital saw patients waiting up to eight hours for a bed.

Residents and politicians have renewed calls to safeguard services at the Vale of Leven Hospital, to help meet local demand.

Concerns over the future of services at the Vale were raised last year by MSPs following closures of the out-of-hours service at the hospital without warning.

The out-of-hours service at the local hospital was discussed in Parliament last spring following eight separate closures between January and May.

A report produced by NHS GGC recommended the withdrawal of the service between Mondays and Fridays due to financial and staffing pressures.

Helensburgh and Lomond's MSP Jackie Baillie took the opportunity to highlight the much-needed service and the "not so ideal" alternative of having to travel to Paisley.

Ms Baillie, who has campaigned for services to be retained at the Vale, accused the SNP of presiding over an NHS “winter meltdown”.

She said: “The hardworking GPs and support staff based at the Vale of Leven out-of-hours go above and beyond and I want to thank them as they deal with one of the busiest winters we have had in recent years.

“They really are lifesavers and they deserve credit for providing the best possible care under immense pressure.

“As A&E services at the RAH struggle to cope with the surge in demand, the need for a fully-resourced and accessible GP out-of-hours service is even clearer.

“If this vital service was not available then many patients would end up referring themselves to A&E, increasing waiting times, or taking the risk of their condition getting worse as they decide to wait to see a GP in the morning.

“It’s no wonder that local GPs have united to condemn any plans to cut opening hours, saying that doing so would put patients at risk.

“The local service is still under review and I will continue to work alongside local GPs and campaigners to protect services at the Vale and oppose any downgrading of out-of-hours.”

Jim Moohan, chairman of the Hospitalwatch group which is campaigning to protect the remaining services at Vale of Leven Hospital, said travelling to the RAH from Helensburgh was a “living nightmare” and would continue to be so.

He said: “We are encouraging all political parties to be at one with us. We need unity to stop the rot and change the course of direction. Political parties have an obligation to stand with us on this.“We are insisting we are part of the consultations to bring back A&E to Alexandria. There is a need and a just cause for it.

“We are totally supportive of A&E to be returned, and what we require is for all the political parties to kick the same door that we’re kicking and beat the same drum.”

Health secretary Shona Robison said: “Our £22.4 million winter funding, the highest amount in any one year, will continue to be invested in boards throughout winter to help them cope with pressures.

“Scottish Government ministers, clinicians and senior officials are continuing monitor the situation closely and keep in contact with boards to fully understand and assist with the pressures they are under.

“It is important for patients to be aware that While health boards continue to take all appropriate steps to respond to increased demand in line with their winter plans – which may include some deferral of non-urgent elective surgery – there is no blanket cancellation of non-urgent elective procedures for the month of January as is the case in England.”

Speaking about the increase in demand at hospitals, a spokeswoman for NHS GG&C said: “Our winter plan is designed to provide safe and effective care for people using our services and enable us to respond to these additional pressures and open additional in-patient beds where appropriate.

“In line with every health board in Scotland, we reduce our elective programme during the festive period and early January. However, we seek to ensure surgery is protected and prioritised for the most clinically urgent patients.

“At this busy time we are reminding people to use their emergency services appropriately and only to use emergency departments for serious injuries and major emergencies.

“Our minor injuries units are the best place for the rapid treatment of minor injuries, including sprains and cuts and broken bones.

“For minor ailments, patients should go to their pharmacy and our GP out of hours service is also fully operational.

“Our staff continue to work hard to ensure patients attending all our hospitals are treated as quickly as possible.”

Many social media users expressed their frustration - and added their support to the calls to reintroduce an A&E facility at the Vale of Leven Hospital.

On the Facebook page of the 'Save the Vale' pressure group, Heather Richmond posted: “This is happening too much to all our services. The vale definitely needs to be brought back ASAP.”

Nikky Hall said: “It’s times like this that we need a fully functioning hospital. All hospitals over greater Glasgow and Clyde are under so much pressure. It’s shocking that the Vale is not fully functioning.

And Lindsey Mcphail posted: “Wards should never have been shut at the Vale in the first place. Times like this show we need this hospital.

Meanwhile, Christine Stokes paid tribute to the Vale staff, saying: “Hats off to all staff at the Vale they do a great job. Wards and other departments need to be reopened to help stop this happening.”

Many others joined Christine in giving full backing to NHS staff.

Another post issued a dire warning about a lack of beds and NHS staff suffering illnesses.

It stated: “There are actually very few beds available across the city, and more frighteningly, there were no intensive care beds available, meaning patients requiring intensive care would possibly need to be stabilised and sent outwith the city.

“Staff are crawling into work on their hands and knees with the flu, chest infections etc because we work so close to the line with staffing as it is.

“Seriously - all it would take is for a major incident to happen and we’d be stuffed!”