PATIENTS are being forced to travel as far afield as Inverness as NHS Lothian spends £50 million sending people to be treated outside the local area.
A Freedom of Information request, obtained by the Evening News, reveals the money was spent over six years for patients to be treated by other health boards.
Critics last night warned the figures showed the health board was struggling to cope with local demand.
In 2016/17, over £3m was paid out to NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde alone so patients could be sent by taxi for pre-operation appointments before receiving heart bypass surgery at the Golden Jubilee hospital in Clydebank.
Other patients were sent to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness.
The amount NHS Lothian has paid to other health boards has rocketed from around £7.9m in 2011/12 to £9.3m last year – an increase of around 14 per cent.
Reaction among patients is mixed, with some happy to be offered their operation elsewhere if it’s quicker and relieves pain to those who do not want to travel outside the area as it becomes harder for family and friends to visit.
Tam Waterson, Unison Lothian branch chairman, said it would be better if the operating theatre capacity in the Lothians was used fully as this would stop patients having to be sent to other regions often by taxi.
He added: “We’re obviously happy the money is being kept in the NHS but a better use of that money would be to utilise the theatre capacity we have.
“In the Lothians that would obviously mean hiring extra staff but given that we’re already paying for staff outwith
“NHS Lothian it would certainly save money and inconvenience not sending patients to other areas not just for their surgery but for their pre-op and post-op meetings.
“If we had the staff we could operate theatres 24/7 that we should be using. That would not only save money but would cut down on inconvenience for patients and their relatives.”
At present NHS Lothian has a reciprocal agreement with the 13 other health boards throughout the country that means patients can be treated outwith their area.
The health board has missed a host of key waiting times and in March the Evening News reported how one in five patients in the Lothians are being forced to wait more than two months for vital cancer treatment to begin.
Lothian MSP and Shadow Health Secretary Miles Briggs, who obtained the data under FoI said: “Lothian residents will be shocked that large amounts of money from NHS Lothian’s budget are having to be spent on treatment for local patients in other health board areas in Scotland.
“While there will always be cases where it might be in a patient’s interests to receive a particular specialist treatment in another area and while some patients will welcome the opportunity to receive operations like hip replacements elsewhere if it reduces waiting time, the significant amounts being spent in other NHS boards raises serious questions about the capacity of NHS Lothian to cope with demand locally.”
In some cases patients were sent as far away as NHS Highland to receive treatment which could be anything from a hip replacement to heart bypass surgery. More than £2.3m has been paid to NHS Highland in the last six years.
Neil Findlay MSP said: “These are deeply troubling figures that show the extent of the SNP’s mismanagement of our NHS. Not only is this costing taxpayers a fortune – it is forcing patients to take long trips to get treatment they should receive in Lothian.
“The SNP has left our NHS staff over-worked, under-resourced and undervalued – and it is patients that are paying the price.
“Labour has already launched a workforce commission to address the staffing crisis in our health service so we can build an NHS that works for the many, not the few.”
Health Secretary Shona Robison said: “There are often very good reasons why patients are treated in another health board area, particularly if they need specialist treatment that is provided at a regional or national centre.
“In some cases it might be easier for a patient to go to a hospital in a neighbouring board area, because it is nearer to their home.
“Where services are best provided locally, we expect boards to do so.”
Tracey Gillies, NHS Lothian Medical Director, confirmed the reciprocal agreements with all NHS boards across Scotland. She said: “If needed – some patients from Lothian receive treatment in other parts of Scotland and patients from other regions receiving treatment here.
“The reasons for this are varied – a patient who sustains an injury in Inverness, for example, would receive care there – we might also send patients outside the region for specialist treatment.”