Moves to cut waiting list backlog cost Lothian health board £10m

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ALMOST £10 million has been spent on trying to clear the NHS Lothian waiting lists backlog.

The health board today said it had dedicated a further £5m to cutting the backlog, in addition to £4.8m spent on the problem earlier this year – and it admitted that more money would be needed. Attempts to shrink the list stalled during April, with the number of people waiting too long for treatment standing at 6718, just four fewer than in March.

The number of inpatients waiting for longer than the target of nine weeks dropped from 2680 to 2300, but there were 4418 outpatients waiting longer than the 12-week target – a rise of 376 from March.

NHS Lothian has admitted that its initial target of getting rid of the backlog by June is not achievable.

The backlog was uncovered when staff were revealed to have been wrongly suspending patients from the waiting lists for elective surgery in a bid to hit Scottish Government targets.

It was only when the practice was revealed and halted last year that the true extent of the waiting lists were revealed.

In September, just before the problem was discovered, 439 patients were said to have exceeded target waiting times – 416 inpatients and 23 outpatients. By February, when the problem peaked, the total had shot up to 7631, including 4607 outpatients and 3024 inpatients. In addition, 142 cataract patients, who have a separate target time of 18 weeks to treatment, had been on the list too long.

In a bid to get patients treated, the health board has reopened defunct operating theatres, hired more surgeons and referred patients for treatment in the private sector.

The latest £5m has been taken from a £6m pot of cash returned to NHS Lothian for this financial year by the Scottish Government.

At the end of the last financial year, funds from different areas of the health board’s budget which had underspent were gathered together and had to be repaid to the Scottish Government for accounting reasons, with the intention that they would be returned to the health board for 2012/13.

Susan Goldsmith, finance director for NHS Lothian, said: “We are working on demand and capacity plans for the year ahead and, while we estimate we will require more funding to solve waiting times issues, it is not possible to provide an exact figure at this stage.

“We are working hard to ensure we fulfil our responsibilities to everyone affected and to put us in a position to manage demand in the future.

“Funding of £6m was returned to government at the end of the last financial year. We have now received this money back and it has been allocated to reduce waiting times.”

Margaret Watt, chairwoman of the Scotland Patients Association condemned the situation, saying: “It’s hard enough trying to keep the services running without us losing that kind of money to irresponsibility. It would appear they don’t have the ability to run a health board. If they were in any outside industry they would have lost their jobs.”

Lothians MSP Sarah Boyack said: “What people want to know is when we will see the investment that will target the underlying problem of lack of capacity in NHS Lothian, which led to the build-up in the first place.”