Health Secretary sets ‘ambitious’ targets to tackle long NHS waiting times

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf has announced a set of “ambitious” targets in a bid to tackle NHS waiting times – including a pledge to end waits of two years or more for some patients within weeks.

The Scottish Government is seeking to end two-year waits for outpatient appointments in most specialities by the end of August.

It also hopes to eliminate waits of two years or more for inpatient or day case treatment in most specialities by the end of September.

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NHS statistics show that at the end of March this year, 10,613 people had been waiting two years or more for help in hospital, either as an inpatient or on a day treatment basis.

Further figures from Public Health Scotland show at that time there were 2,831 patients who had been waiting 104 weeks or longer for an outpatient appointment.

Mr Yousaf said NHS waiting times had “grown as a result of the pandemic”.

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He added this is “why we now need to focus on treating these people that are waiting too long for treatment”.

Speaking after a visit to Perth Royal Infirmary, he said the new targets are “some of the most ambitious” in the UK.

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Humza Yousaf: The health secretary has set 'ambitious' targets to cut NHS waiting times

These also include seeing all those who have been waiting 18 months for an outpatient appointment in most specialities by the end of December.

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In addition, by the end of March 2023 it is hoped NHS staff will have seen those waiting a year or more for an outpatient appointment in most specialities.

For those waiting 18 months or more for treatment – either as an inpatient or on a day case basis – they should be seen by the end of September 2023

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It is then hoped that those who have been waiting a year or more will be seen by the end of September 2024.

Last month it emerged that cancer treatment waiting time performance has fallen to a record new low according to one measurement.

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Figures for the first quarter of 2022 show performance against the 62-day treatment target fell to 76.9%, down from 79.1% in the previous quarter.

The standard has not been met since the end of 2012.

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Statistics from Public Health Scotland showed performance against another target – the 31-day standard from decision to treat to first cancer treatment – was met with 96.3% of patients being seen within this timeframe.

The 62-day standard is based on the time from urgent suspicion of cancer referral to first cancer treatment.

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Mr Yousaf said: “From speaking to patients and clinicians across the country, I know there is a physical and mental consequence in having to wait a long period to be treated, that is why addressing long waits is a key focus of our plans for NHS recovery.”

Funding for the new drive to cut waiting times will come from the £1 billion allocated for the NHS under Covid Recovery Plan.

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The initiative has been welcomed by Alastair Murray, chair of the Scottish Committee for Orthopaedics and Trauma.

He said: “Scottish orthopaedics very much welcomes the introduction of targets to address the growing number of people waiting for essential treatment.

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“It is hoped that the targets set out will drive ongoing efforts to reduce waiting times for orthopaedic surgery in Scotland.”