NHS Lothian has defended itself against accusations it has “doctored” its waiting lists.
The health board offered surgery in Harrogate and Northumberland to some patients, but when they declined, they were then not included on a list of patients waiting more than the target 18 weeks for treatment. This allows NHS Lothian to hit Government targets but means patients left waiting longer for treatment go undetected.
Ultimately, however, the patients will go back on the waiting list and be treated in Scotland.
NHS Lothian insisted the policy was “standard practice” in Scotland, but declined to reveal exactly how many patients had been offered treatment in England and Wales.
Chief operating officer Jackie Sansbury said the offers of surgery in England were made “in a small number of cases”.
She said: “We have an excellent track record in meeting our waiting-times targets. This process is about providing fast and effective care and more choice for our patients, and not about geographical boundaries.”
Scottish Labour’s health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: “It is deeply concerning that NHS staff are being forced to fiddle figures like this.
“These revelations cast a huge doubt over the integrity of the SNP’s claims. This may just be the tip of the iceberg.”
The revelation of the apparent massaging of official figures comes after Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon told delegates at the SNP conference in Inverness they should be “proud” that hospitals in Scotland boast the shortest waiting lists on record.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Patients across Scotland are benefiting from the lowest-ever waiting times in years. Those offered treatment further from home, but who choose to be treated locally, remain on the waiting list and are treated within NHS guidelines.