Comment: Government must help find quick solution

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three years after the waiting times scandal, the delays facing Lothian patients are back to the same dreadful level.

Almost 7000 people waiting for routine treatment like hip replacement operations are finding they cannot be treated within the 12 weeks pledged by the NHS. These problems are far more acute in and around the Capital than almost anywhere else in the country.

This time at least we know that the problem is not only being managed in an open and honest fashion but also by a leadership with direction and drive. Waiting list “terminator” Jim Crombie may be struggling to find a way to deal with the current doubling in demand for minor operations, but he readily admits that the sudden surge is proving a tough nut to crack. And in the recent past he has shown that he can deliver by driving waiting times down significantly.

Many of the problems which the NHS faces are deep-rooted and cannot be solved overnight. Insufficient care provision outside of hospitals leading to so-called bed blocking, difficulties recruiting and training staff and soaring demands on the health service are all well catalogued. Some of these issues are being addressed. The current reforms which will breakdown barriers between health boards and the local authority teams providing social care are as welcome as they are overdue. The same might be said of the Scottish Government’s announcement of £50 million for two new surgery units in Edinburgh and Livingston.

Although they are not a cure-all answer to the problems that we face today, they do promise to make a significant difference in years to come. They will not, however, make any difference to those facing unacceptable delays today, or next year, or the year after. Sites have yet to be identified for these units to be built.

In the meantime, winter is looming with the inevitable extra pressures that brings. There are genuine fears that these problems could grow far worse before they get any better.

Health Minister Shona Robison has taken a significant step towards addressing the ills of the Capital’s NHS by ordering the building of these new specialist units. She deserves credit for that, but she must also follow that through by helping the health board find a way of coping with these extraordinary pressures in the difficult months ahead.