Deep concern at waiting list scandal

Earlier this month, Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon delivered a statement on the independent review on hidden waiting lists at NHS Lothian.

The review, conducted by PricewaterhouseCooper identified a high incidence of patient’s records being altered to disguise breaches of waiting time targets.

The report also points to a culture of discouraging the reporting of bad news and pressure on staff to find ‘tactical’ solutions to the issue rather than addressing its root causes.

Members in the Chamber were clearly shocked by the report’s findings and, following the statement, two members of staff have been suspended.

This issue came to light last year when a newspaper reported on Lothian patients being offered appointments in England.

Since then I have asked a series of Parliamentary Questions in an attempt to find answers and again questioned the Health Secretary during her statement.

This report has laid bare the pressure NHS staff are under to meet waiting time targets and is a damning indictment of the management culture that pervades NHS Lothian.

This ‘no bad news’ culture prevented the full extent of the situation being reported to the Board and created an oppressive atmosphere. Some staff refused to be interviewed at work or insisted on a union representative being present before speaking to investigators.

NHS Lothian has been instructed to investigate this culture to identify the reasons for it and how to address it.  At the same time, the Health Secretary has ordered NHS boards across the country to carry out detailed audits of local waiting time management and processes over 2012-13.

Given that it took an independent audit of NHS Lothian to uncover this problem, I want to see Audit Scotland conduct a full, independent investigation of health boards across the country to look at this issue.

I welcome the Cabinet Secretary’s clear acceptance of the seriousness of this issue and the allocation of resources to address management of waiting times in NHS Lothian.

However, addressing administrative failings will not solve the underlying issues.  NHS Lothian’s own internal report identified the serious shortage of elective capacity with pressure on staff and facilities. 

NHS Lothian is under severe financial pressure as health services do not get sufficient NRAC funding given our needs in the region and figures show that over 300 nurses and midwives have been cut in the last year alone.

I was interested to hear about the Cabinet Secretary’s commitment to the development of a plan to address the sustainability of NHS Lothian’s services and will be following this up with her.