Health bosses will start shipping patients to private hospitals after rocketing demand left more than 14,000 patients languishing on waiting lists, the Evening News can reveal.
Cash-strapped NHS Lothian has been forced to make a U-turn on its decision to stop paying for private care in March, as waiting lists for outpatient procedures such as consultations on cataract surgery and hip replacements have doubled in the last six months.
The concerning figure is believed to be the highest since the waiting times scandal in 2012, when times were doctored to meet Scottish Government targets.
Finance chiefs told a board meeting yesterday the backlog was caused by a lack of beds and staff, as well as rising demand caused by the ageing population.
Curbing private sector spending put the board back on course financially but the new decision brings into question whether it can balance the books.
The move will rack up a £6 million bill, which will be part-funded by Scottish Government and partly by NHS Lothian.
Finance director Susan Goldsmith told board members: “We have seen such an increase that we decided it had to be addressed by the board.
“It comes down to a need for resources, both financial resources and physical capacity.”
NHS bosses are exploring a number of different ideas to ease the pressure, such as streamlining repeat visits and working closely with GPs so they are aware of the areas with the greatest waiting lists.
Lothian waiting lists are among the longest in Scotland, as NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde reported 4093 patients waiting longer than 12 weeks whereas the figure was 3,358 at NHS Lanarkshire.
One resident told the Evening News that her 34-year-old son had been told he would have to wait until next year for an outpatient appointment in urology after a GP referred him in June.
The 64-year-old, who lives in Gilmerton, said: “You are left to guess what your condition is, and whether you need more urgent help.
“NHS Lothian needs to do something about these waiting lists – it’s disgusting.”
The move prompted fresh questions over NHS targets, which state no patient should wait more than 12 weeks for an outpatient appointment.
Lothian Tory MSP Miles Briggs said: “Clearly it is unacceptable that the number of Lothian patients waiting for more than 12 weeks for key procedures has doubled recently and NHS Lothian needs to take decisive action to address this. The fact that NHS Lothian is now turning again to the independent sector to help meet the treatment time guarantee is a very real demonstration of the pressures facing our health service and that it is struggling on its own to meet the demand for routine operations.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring patients get the best treatment and has provided £2.5m to support NHS Lothian’s delivery of elective waiting times during 2016/17. We have also recently committed a further £400,000 to NHS Lothian to support outpatient care.”