Outraged patients across the Lothians are being forced to wait almost a year for an initial orthopaedic appointment.
New figures show a total of 2169 patients in NHS Lothian have waited more than the standard 12-week treatment time guarantee in the past year – 38 per cent of the overall number of patients seen in the region.
Almost a third of the 2280 patients on the current waiting list have been waiting over the 12 week guarantee. This figure has more than doubled since June last year, soaring from 314 to 788 in March 2018.
Flight attendant Jean Toth, who suffers from excruciating pain in both her feet on a daily basis due to having arthritis, has been told she may have to wait 45 weeks until she is assessed after being referred by her GP.
Jean said: “I’ve had pains in my feet now for the past five years at least.
“With my job I am on my feet all day and it is taking its toll. It is essential I get the problem sorted but 45 weeks is outrageous and unacceptable.
“I know there is a huge backlog and there’s other people who will understandably be a higher priority than me, but almost a year just for an assessment is ridiculous. If I need an operation then I will go to the back of the queue again.”
Jean has had some cortisone injections to help relieve pain and inflammation in her feet – but this is just a short-term fix.
She has also been in trouble with her employer for wearing flat shoes as opposed to the standard heeled footwear because of the pain it causes her.
Jean, who lives in Gilmerton, added: “I have no movement in either of my big toes. Because I’ve been trying to relieve the pain on the right foot, which is the worst of the two, I am actually putting added pressure on the other leg.
“Now I’m getting pains in my left knee. I don’t know how much longer I can go on like this. It is a crazy situation and in the meantime I, and so many others, are left in agony.
“I feel like I’ve been brushed to the side and forgotten about.”
Health secretary Shona Robison said NHS Lothian had recruited two consultant orthopaedic surgeons in January to help meet the increasing demand.
She added: “I recognise some patients in Lothian are experiencing long waits including in the speciality of orthopaedics, that is why I have made £50 million available to NHS Scotland – with up to £7.4 million being made available to Lothian.
“This additional funding will build up their capacity and make sure that all patients are seen and treated in a timely fashion.”
But Lothian MSP and Conservative health spokesman Miles Briggs, who raised the topic at First Minister’s Questions, said the latest statistics show improvements have yet to be made.
He said: “Forty-five weeks for an outpatient appointment is totally unacceptable and for someone in pain this feels like an eternity. The current waiting times, just to get an initial assessment, are nearly four times longer than the Scottish Government’s own 12 week target and getting worse.
“Shona Robison is living in cloud-cuckoo land if she thinks things are improving within NHS Lothian orthopaedic services.
“This is a direct result of Shona Robison and the SNP Government’s abject failure to put in place the long term NHS workforce plans to ensure our local NHS can meet the needs of Lothian’s growing population and increasing number of older residents.”
Jacquie Campbell, chief officer of acute services at NHS Lothian, said: “We are experiencing a high volume of referrals into the orthopaedic service. Each new referral is reviewed by an orthopaedic clinician and booked in order of clinical priority, which means that patients referred as being urgent will be given an earlier appointment.
“We are re-designing patient pathways into orthopaedics and working to improve community physiotherapy services to ensure that more people are seen quickly by the right professional. “This is beginning to reduce outpatient waiting times and allowing the service to have the capacity in place to manage new referrals.
“An additional consultant orthopaedic surgeon has been recruited and the joint replacement service has been redesigned to increase the number of people who can be reviewed by arthroplasty practitioners. Patients who are clinically eligible are also being offered appointments at the Golden Jubilee National Hospital to help reduce waits.”