Health chiefs in NHS Lothian are struggling to recruit three specialist urology surgeons, a key reason why cancer waiting times for patients have failed to meet targets.
Under Scottish Government guidelines, 95 per cent of cancer patients should be seen within 62 days. However, in the Lothians 77 out of 474 eligible referrals did not undergo treatment within the agreed timescale – meaning the health board fell short of meeting the 95 per cent target, having recorded 83.8 per cent for the October 1 to December 31, 2016 period.
The long waits have been blamed on capacity issues, such as staffing shortages and a backlog of patients waiting for key diagnostic tests. Those with urology cancers, such as bladder, kidney and prostate cancers, were among the worst affected as one specialist surgeon relocated to England last year and another could not work for medical reasons.
NHS Lothian is three consultants down in urology with funding available for 14 and only 11 in post. The vacancies have arisen through one retirement at the end of 2016, one consultant relocating to England in March 2016 and a vacancy they were carrying, temporarily filled by one full time locum consultant. There are currently two part time locums in place for urology.
Jacquie Campbell, Interim Chief Officer, NHS Lothian, said: “Unfortunately a number of patients are waiting longer than we would like for appointments within the urology service and we would like to apologise for this.
“We are working hard to prioritise patients, minimise waiting times and balance demand against the ongoing recruitment challenges all NHS boards across Scotland are facing. This includes using locum consultants, providing extra diagnostic capacity and introducing more urgent outpatient appointments. Recruitment is under way for the three consultant roles and we are confident the department will soon be operating at its full capacity of 14 consultants.”
Miles Briggs, Lothian Tory MSP, said: “It is deeply alarming that NHS Lothian has admitted there are as many as three consultant vacancies within just one specialism, urology. This is another stark indication of the recruitment challenges facing NHS Lothian and health boards across Scotland.
“The Scottish Conservatives have consistently raised concerns about the lack of a proper national NHS workforce planning policy under the SNP and ministers urgently need to do more to set out what support they can provide to NHS Lothian to help them recruit consultants. Only when these consultants are in place can we expect to see significant reductions in cancer waiting times.”
Scottish Labour health spokesperson Anas Sarwar said: “After a decade of division, the SNP has delivered a staffing crisis in our NHS. Simply put, our hospitals don’t have enough doctors and nurses. That means patients aren’t getting the care Scots deserve.”