Treatment targets see Lothians hospitals struggling

More and more patients are not being treated in the time set down by the Scottish Government. Picture: Tony Marsh

More and more patients are not being treated in the time set down by the Scottish Government. Picture: Tony Marsh

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HUNDREDS of Lothian patients have had their legal right to prompt treatment breached, as stretched hospitals struggle to cope with increased demand.

NHS Lothian was the worst-performing health board in Scotland for meeting the Scottish Government’s flagship Treatment Time Guarantee (TTG), which promises all patients inpatient or day case treatment within 12 weeks.

NHS Lothian needs to be able to reassure patients it won’t keel over this winter

Sarah Boyack MSP

More than 970 people waited longer than the 12-week pledge in the quarter up to September 2015 – equating to around eight per cent of patients.

Slow improvements have been made since the numbers spiked to record levels in March 2014, when there were 1,617 breaches of TTG, however, the latest figure is an eight per cent increase on December 2013.

Delays could have a serious impact on the health of patients, as waits could mean their symptoms become worse and require emergency treatment, warned Dr Jean Turner, patron of the Scotland Patients Association.

The former GP said: “The most important thing to do is to find out why they are not meeting their targets. Often the reasons for the problems we see now go back many years and are complex to solve. At the end of the day you have to boil it down to who is suffering from this – and that is the patients.

“Delays can be very disconcerting and I hope a solution can be found quickly for everyone’s sake.”

Lothian Labour MSP Sarah Boyack called for capacity issues to be addressed to tackle spiralling waiting times which are forcing the health board to fork out for private healthcare in order to meet targets.

She said: “Three years on and the Scottish Government is still failing to deliver the Treatment Time Guarantee for NHS Lothian patients.

“Month in, month out, hundreds of patients aren’t getting the treatment they are legally entitled to within 12 weeks and that’s not good enough.

“Our Lothian population is both ageing and growing, so these pressures aren’t going to ease unless capacity issues are addressed.

“There is not enough staff and capacity in-house, and NHS Lothian needs to be able to reassure patients it won’t keel over this winter.” Reducing these waiting times is a key priority for the health service, said Jim Crombie, chief officer of acute services at NHS Lothian, who offered his apologies for the long delays.

He said: “We have set out our commitments to patients for the years ahead and explained how we plan to reshape our services to increase internal, core capacity to help us continue to provide more effective, patient-centred care.

“However, we do recognise that it will take time to increase capacity, infrastructure and staff.”

Health Secretary Shona Robison said a string of actions had been taken to ease the strain, such as a £1.5 million investment in Golden Jubilee Hospital and plans for six elective treatment centres in Scotland.

She said: “Waits for hip and knee operations have more than halved over the last ten years, while waiting times for cataract operations are more than 40 per cent shorter.

“However, more clearly needs to be done to maintain and improve on performance in order to meet the rightly demanding targets we have set.

“Our ageing population in Scotland means that our NHS is facing different challenges to a decade ago and it is vital that we support health boards as they continue to adapt to meet these new demands.”

lizzy.buchan@edinburghnews.com