NHS Lothian patients face some of longest waits

Sarah Boyack says patients deserve better. Picture: Jane BArlow
Sarah Boyack says patients deserve better. Picture: Jane BArlow
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HOSPITAL patients in Lothian are still facing some of the longest waits in Scotland to be seen or treated, new figures have revealed.

Months after a multi-millionpound drive was launched to boost the amount of patients NHS Lothian could treat, numbers waiting beyond a six-week target for diagnostic endoscopies has continued to soar, while the region’s emergency departments are among the worst-performing in the country.

Of 85 Scottish patients to have seen their legal right to prompt treatment breached in December, 42 were from Lothian, while performance against an 18-week patient journey target from referral to treatment was the second worst of the country’s 14 health boards.

NHS Lothian, which announced an action plan last summer which will see £27 million spent on sending patients to private hospitals and increasing internal capacity by April, has significantly cut the numbers of patients waiting more than 12 weeks for treatment and a recent drive to hire more staff has proved a success, with just two posts out of 85 having to be readvertised.

But Labour Lothians MSP Sarah Boyack said the latest figures, released by NHS Scotland’s Information Services Division, showed that Lothian patients were not getting the service they deserve.

She added: “Half of the all of the breaches of the Treatment Time Guarantee being in Lothian is not good enough. These figures have to act as a wake-up call.”

Of the 1925 people in Scotland waiting beyond a six-week target for endoscopies, which can diagnose a series of potentially fatal conditions, more than three-
quarters were from Lothian.

The total waiting too long for the procedure – which sees a camera on a tube used to see inside patients’ digestive systems – has more than doubled in three months, and internal NHS Lothian figures show it rose again in January, to 1555.

News of the spiralling breaches comes just days after the Scottish Government launched a new drive to increase the awareness and screening of bowel cancer, which is diagnosed using an endoscopy.

In Lothian’s accident and emergency departments, just 86.2 per cent of patients were dealt with in four hours, against a target of 98 per cent. Only health boards in Lanarkshire and Forth Valley performed worse.

NHS Lothian was one of only two health boards to fall below a 90 per cent 18-week referral to treatment target, with 87.6 per cent being treated in the timescale.

Tim Davison, NHS Lothian’s chief executive, said: “We have been clear about the scale of the challenge we face in reducing waiting times and ensuring patients are seen as quickly and effectively as possible.

“We have made significant progress in reducing the number of people waiting for an appointment and I would like to reiterate again our apologies to those who have had to wait too long.

“We have invested significantly in increasing capacity in the short term and in identifying longer-term options which will ensure we can maintain waiting lists at an acceptable level.”