THE number of patients waiting more than 12 weeks for treatment in Lothian hospitals has soared by almost 70 per cent in the space of four months – despite ambitious plans to slash the backlog to zero.
Latest figures show nearly 4200 patients were waiting beyond the limit for outpatient treatment in June 2015 as the health board struggled to tackle bed blocking and faced a recruitment crisis in key specialisms.
It is an increase from around 2500 in March and back up to the level which first led to the region’s waiting times crisis.
Today there were fresh demands from politicians for the Scottish Government to take action as the waiting time guarantee was branded “a farce”.
NHS Lothian chief executive Tim Davison admitted: “It’s back to as bad as it was three years ago and we don’t want to see this deteriorating further.”
Former nurse Jim Crombie was parachuted into NHS Lothian in 2013 to tackle spiralling waiting times for vital treatment as the backlog of outpatients waiting beyond the 12-week limit rose to more than 4600. He told the Evening News this year that his raft of new measures – including conducting pre-planned operations at weekends and using private sector specialists to support NHS staff – was working as the numbers of patients waiting had fallen to around 2500.
But NHS Lothian’s board meeting this week heard that the numbers had again soared. There has been a “sustained growth” in demand in areas such as gastroenterology, where the number of delayed patients has nearly trebled since June last year. Another area of concern is urology – procedures involving kidneys, bladder and prostate – which has 321 patients waiting over the limit in June, compared to just 54 in the same month of 2014.
Along with so-called bedblocking which has seen hundreds of patients trapped in hospital due to lack of social care, severe difficulties in recruiting key staff has added to the backlog.
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said: “The 12-week treatment time has become a farce.
“It’s both toothless and unattainable and should be looked at again. Patients in and around Edinburgh deserve much better.”
Dr Richard Simpson, Scottish Labour public health spokesman added: “This spike in people waiting should be cause of real concern.
“The SNP Government made a promise to patients in the Lothians, but at the same time they have squeezed health spending in Scotland.”
Health Secretary Shona Robison said: “Earlier this year we invested £3 million from our Performance Fund to support the delivery of waiting times in NHS Lothian. This funding is to increase local capacity in NHS Lothian and we would expect this to be reflected in waiting times performance going forward.
“I’m determined that we get the right structures in place to ensure everyone is seen within the 12-week treatment time guarantee and am working closely with all boards to help them deliver this.”