Leader: ‘Hours change positive news for patients’

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NEWS that patients across Edinburgh and the Lothians will be called in for routine hospital appointments in the evening and at weekends is a major cultural shift for the NHS, but positive news for patients.

Our healthcare system is under increasing strain from a growing number of elderly patients and those with multiple illnesses.

Capacity in our hospitals is limited, but in the evening and at weekends many rooms are empty when they could be used for non-emergency surgery and medical testing.

So, rather than look to build new accommodation to cope with high demand between 9-5, Monday to Friday, it makes sense to utilise the existing estate across the week.

Secondly, out-of-hours appointments make sense for the public. For many, weekday appointments are far less convenient and the option of a weekend or late appointment will assist those who are working and those with childcare issues.

Furthermore, there is also an argument that the health service should mirror the rest of society. Many of us work late and at weekends so why should our hospitals not offer more flexibility in this area? Of course, the trend in recent years has been to reduce the opening hours of GPs and push patients towards NHS24, not always successfully.

Finally, there is the financial argument. After the waiting-times scandal, NHS Lothian has struggled to treat patients within tough government targets, and has relied on sending the public to costly private hospitals or hiring private teams to staff NHS hospitals out of hours. In 2012-13, the cost of this was £12 million.

Many patients are still waiting too long.

But the new plans will mean more people are treated directly by the National Health Service, reducing costs and ensuring that boards such as NHS Lothian are better-equipped to deal with rising patient numbers.