Over the last couple of months I have been questioning the Scottish Government over reports of hidden waiting lists in NHS Lothian.
The issue emerged after reports in the press revealed that patients in the Lothians were being offered appointments at hospitals in Harrogate – a 400 mile round trip.
It was claimed that these appointments were offered in the full knowledge that they would not be taken up thus allowing the NHS to take advantage of a loophole to discount patients from waiting time targets.
The issue was raised by Labour during First Minister’s Questions during which Alex Salmond acknowledged that the offer of appointments in England were unreasonable and that an investigation by NHS Lothian had been initiated.
The NHS Report came back to Parliament earlier this month and I questioned the Health Secretary on the issue. I welcome the Scottish Government’s intention to review guidance to NHS Boards regarding waiting time reporting. There is a need for clarification because the guidance is capable of being interpreted differently. It is important that the report’s recommendations are now put into place to avoid patients being placed in a similar position in future.
Although I am pleased to see that NHS Lothian will take action to improve its management of waiting times monitoring I remain concerned about the issue of the development of new capacity to enable NHS Lothian to provide enough elective surgery provision to meet the demand within the Lothians.
The report highlighted that a 20% increase in elective inpatient activity in the last four years has stretched resources stating ‘inescapable fact is that more elective capacity must be found locally’. I questioned the Health Secretary on this point specifically and welcomed her commitment to work closely with NHS Lothian to deliver new capacity. The challenge now will be to put that into action against a backdrop of tightening financial restraints and cuts to staff.