Nearly 50 patients have waited more than two years for a gastroenterology outpatient appointment with a Scottish health board – when they should have been seen within 12 weeks.
The expected waiting time for tests on a range of conditions including stomach problems, abnormal liver function and changes in bowel behaviour is 114 weeks in NHS Lothian.
One GP who contacted Scotland on Sunday described the waiting time period as “ludicrous, dangerous and pointless”. It is believed at least one patient waited over a year for endoscopy before being diagnosed with cancer when they finally received their test.
Patients are travelling to Dunfermline to use the regional endoscopy unit based at the Queen Margaret Hospital which provides diagnostic and surveillance tests for patients from NHS Fife, NHS Lothian and NHS Forth Valley.
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman has already raised concerns and stated in a letter to Tory health spokesman Miles Briggs that she agrees that “too many patients are waiting too long for treatment and appointments”.
The 114 week waiting time compares with 19 weeks in NHS Tayside and NHS Grampian, where 75 per cent of urgent referrals are seen within eight weeks.
The deputy chief executive of the health board, Jim Crombie, has apologised to the 49 patients who have waited over two years and everyone who has been affected.
He said: “We know patients are waiting longer than they should expect and we apologise to them.
“I would also reassure them that we are working to reduce the lengthy outpatient waiting times being experienced in gastroenterology and endoscopy.
“Patients are being booked by date of referral but also by clinical priority, meaning that patients referred with a suspicion of cancer are given appointments as a priority.”
Crombie said that a number of remedial steps have been taken, including extra clinics and sessions at evenings and weekends.
He added: “Additional capacity continues to be identified across other sites in Lothian and recruitment campaigns are continuing to boost the numbers of clinicians in the team.
“In the meantime, we are also using external providers to ensure patients are treated as swiftly as possible, and commissioned a temporary mobile unit to boost the number of treatment rooms available.”
Briggs said: “The waiting times to see a Gastroenterology consultant in Lothian are totally unacceptable and have got even longer over the last year.
“It is unacceptable for patients in NHS Lothian, some of whom are in serious discomfort, to have to wait over two years for a diagnosis.
“This is yet another example of SNP ministers letting down Scottish patients.”