NHS chiefs racked up a bill of nearly £1 million per month on sending patients to private hospitals for procedures last year as part of attempts to tackle spiralling waiting times.
The use of private facilities such as Spire Murrayfield has risen as NHS Lothian attempts to slash the number of people waiting beyond the Scottish Government’s Treatment Time Guarantee – which entitles inpatient or day-case patients to treatment within 12 weeks.
Figures released through freedom of information legislation revealed the health board spent £11.3m on private hospitals in 2013-14, more than double the amount from 2008.
Areas such as orthopaedics, urology and ophthalmology were among the worst hit, as the service struggle to cope with the ageing population.
Former nurse Jim Crombie, who was parachuted into NHS Lothian in 2013 to tackle crippling waiting lists, said the temporary rise in spending was part of his recovery strategy and he pledged spending would fall as in-house capacity increased.
But the plans were branded as “expensive and flawed” by Lothians Labour MSP Sarah Boyack.
She said: “Using private hospitals to tackle waiting times is an expensive and flawed strategy which stores up problems for the future.
“NHS Lothian’s solution to the waiting time fiasco in 2011 was to send patients to private hospitals. Just a few years later, we are back to square one.
“At the heart of this problem NHS Lothian is dealing with a growing, ageing population and needs to address a huge lack of capacity. Only when NHS Lothian has the budget to match this demographic change will it be able to invest in GP numbers, care homes and our hospitals needed to fix this long-running waiting time issue.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesman Jim Hume called for the Health Secretary to address the pressures facing Lothian hospitals, sparked by unreasonable targets.
Mr Hume MSP said: “Nicola Sturgeon said there would be no privatisation of Scotland’s NHS. Her government’s failure to meet their own hospital targets has meant business is booming for the private health sector in Scotland.
“Instead of going on about another referendum, the SNP need to get on with the day job and fix the pressures facing Lothian hospitals.”
The decision to send patients to private hospitals is part of a package of measures to tackle waiting lists, including conducting pre-planned operations at weekends and using private sector specialists to support NHS staff, Mr Crombie told the Evening News earlier this year.
Mr Crombie, chief officer of acute hospital services at NHS Lothian, said: “We have faced a unique challenge in NHS Lothian, in both scale and pace, to reduce waiting times for patients whilst ensuring the provision of swift, safe and effective patient-centred care.
“We have a strategy in place and Lothian will continue to use external providers as part of its recovery plans, but that use will be reduced as our in-house capacity and infrastructure is increased and existing resources are used more effectively.”