‘The underlying problem remains’

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One the face of it, there is nothing alarming and much to welcome if Lothian patients are being offered quicker treatment in England.

Providing it is convenient and does not lead to extra expense for the patient – or is prohibitively expensive for the taxpayer – then why not have an operation carried out in, say, Newcastle? You don’t need a passport after all (yet).

We are all for patient choice and it is only right that, if there is a way to speed up treatment and thus ensure a better outcome, then that is offered.

The problem is when the patient refuses to accept a surgical holiday. We today reveal how 1200 Lothian patients were given the option of non-urgent surgery in Northumbria and Yorkshire.

Almost half of those refused but, crucially, were still removed from the official waiting list figures. They then had to wait an average of 17 days longer for treatment, with the issue provoking the ire of Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon.

It is clearly unacceptable if there is any suggestion that a patient would be penalised for not agreeing to be treated elsewhere and we are reassured by NHS Lothian this is not the case. We also note the insistence that this was not a deliberate attempt to massage waiting times figures.

While Ms Sturgeon says she is now pleased that the issue has been resolved, the underlying problem remains to be addressed. NHS Lothian must have the resources to deal with an increasing workload – elective surgery is said to have increased by 20 per cent in the last three years.

Efforts to address the outdated funding formula, which is said to short change the health board by £58 million a year, are still not progressing quickly enough.

Only when there is a level-playing field in health funding will waiting list targets be met . . . not by apparent sleight of hand but by treating every patient – whether in Edinburgh, Livingston, or Newcastle – with what is best for them.