Action must match words on waiting times

Earlier this month I questioned the Health Secretary, Alex Neil, on waiting times for patients at NHS Lothian.

The exchange in Parliament (which can be watched at 2mins 42secs into the video opposite) followed on from the publication of official statistics demonstrating that the health board is continuing to struggle to meet targets.

Since October 2012, patients in Scotland have been legally guaranteed a maximum wait of 12 weeks between treatment being agreed and admission for inpatient or day case treatment.

However, in March of this year, of the 13,685 patients who received or were still waiting to receive inpatient or day case treatment, 976 had waited longer that 12 weeks.  That figure accounted for over 60% of all breaches in the whole of Scotland.  

The figures also revealed that the health board accounted for around a third of all breaches for the 12 week target for outpatient appointments.

The challenges being faced by NHS Lothian in relation to waiting times were dramatically exposed in 2012 when it was revealed that the health board had systematically manipulated its waiting time figures to avoid breaches.  Underpinning this practice was evidence of a management culture of bullying and intimidation.

Since the emergence of the waiting times scandal, NHS Lothian has spent vast amounts of money trying to address the lack of capacity affecting the region.

Last year alone, more than £30m was spent, with more than a third going to private health care providers.  Despite this, and the best efforts of staff, the board remains one of the worst performers on waiting times.

I welcome the Cabinet Secretary’s acknowledgement that there are serious capacity issues at the heart of NHS Lothian and his commitment that officials continue to work closely with the health board.  I also asked the Health Secretary about the implications for other health services locally given the priority given to waiting times.  I’m conscious that there are a range of significant challenges faced in Lothians for example the recent campaign for GPs for proper support and investment.

In his response he gave an assurance that the treatment time guarantee for inpatients will be delivered by the end of this year and by March for outpatients.  Patients in the Lothians deserve nothing less and the challenge now will be to turn those words into reality.