THE man whose case first lifted the lid on the NHS Lothian waiting lists scandal today spoke of his astonishment at being offered surgery in England.
Alex Kerr, 59, who is disabled by osteoarthritis, went to the doctor about 18 months ago when he developed a painful growth on the instep of his foot.
At an appointment at the orthopedics department of St John’s Hospital, Livingston, Mr Kerr was told he should have surgery to remove it and was put on the waiting list.
Shortly after, he received a phone call from NHS Lothian offering him an appointment at a hospital in Northumberland.
He said: “I was genuinely surprised to have had that offer. I couldn’t believe it was so far away.”
Mr Kerr declined as his disability makes it particularly hard for him to travel.
He added: “Why would I consider that when there’s a perfectly good hospital on our doorstep?”
However, having turned the offer down, he then remained on the waiting list for another six months.
Eventually, doctors decided it would be better for him not to have the operation, as his other health problems might cause complications. By that point, however, he had been waiting for longer than the 18-week guarantee from referral to treatment.
Although the guarantee was only introduced officially in December 2011, NHS boards have been working towards it for some time.
As was revealed in the Scottish Parliament last week, NHS Lothian staff had been marking patients as unavailable for treatment, even when that was not the case, so that they would not appear in the statistics for having breached the guarantee. In some cases, it was done after an offer of surgery in England.
Mr Kerr’s wife, Alison, 52, who is his full-time carer, raised the issue with Councillor Gordon Beurskens, who represents the Action to Save St John’s Hospital party on West Lothian Council.
She said: “He never got another offer. He had appointments in between, so they were still monitoring it, but no offer of surgery closer to home.”
Cllr Beurskens then heard from another three people who had been offered appointments in England, and so raised the issue at a meeting of the St John’s Hospital Stakeholder Group. After that, questions were asked in parliament.
In all, around 5000 patients had been wrongly suspended from the waiting list.
Cllr Beurskens said: “I was surprised when I heard from Alison. I knew that for certain specialities where specialist centres were down south or in other areas, that wouldn’t be unusual, but it did strike me as highly unusual when I started getting other concerns about similar situations.”
Dr David Farquharson, medical director for NHS Lothian, said he could not comment on Mr Kerr’s individual case, but offered his apologies.