By Bill Heaney
Dumbarton MSP Dame Jackie Baillie asked the First Minister in the Scottish Parliament this week what steps are being taken to eradicate long waiting times for NHS treatment, now that Public Health Scotland has revealed data disclosing that over 1,500 patients have waited more than three years.
Humza Yousaf told Scottish Labour’s spokesperson on health that excessively long waits are unacceptable.
He added: “We are working hard to drive down the longest waits, and we have already seen a significant reduction since targets were announced last July. The latest Public Health Scotland data shows that 73 per cent of in-patient day-case specialties had fewer than 10 patients waiting for more than three years, and only eight had 10 or more.
“That is welcome progress, but there is undoubtedly more to do. That is why, in each of the next three years, we will provide an extra £100 million to accelerate treatment for patients and reduce in-patient and day-case waiting lists by an estimated 100,000 patients.
“That investment will allow us to maximise capacity, build far greater resilience into the system and deliver year-on-year reductions in the number of patients who have waited far too long for treatment.”
But Dame Jackie wasn’t having any of that. She replied: “Let us talk about people, not percentages. It is true that, in July last year, the First Minister announced a series of targets for completely eradicating long waits for treatment.
“By September 2022, not a single one of those targets had been met. In fact, instead of there being zero, as promised, there are a shocking 6,831 Scots waiting more than two years.”
She added: “The £300 million over three years that the First Minister has recently announced is expected to treat 100,000 people. The waiting list sits at 800,000 people, and it is growing.
“The British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing have been scathing about the total failure to acknowledge the workforce crisis, and even his own economy minister has admitted that the Government had no idea how it will all be funded.
“When will the First Minister end the wait for the 800,000 people who are on the waiting list? In light of the SNP’s failure to deliver on existing promises on waiting times, why should patients believe it now?”
The First Minister said Jackie Baillie refused to acknowledge the impact that the global pandemic had on health services right across Scotland and the United Kingdom.
He added: “There are, of course, differences in how we record waiting times across the UK. Waiting times in England and Wales are measured by the referral to treatment time, which is the 18-week target, and which is, as I say, not directly comparable to Scotland’s treatment time guarantee.
“Nonetheless, when we look at the data from 30 June this year, it shows that, per 1,000 of the population, 122 patients were waiting for the treatment time guarantee and new out-patient appointments here in Scotland. That is fewer than in England, where 134 patients per 1,000 are on the RTT waiting list, and in Wales the figure is 243 per 1,000. Although I acknowledge that there are differences in how those figures are measured, my point is that the global pandemic has impacted health services right across the UK.
“We have made significant reductions. The number of people who are waiting for more than two years for new out-patient appointments is down by 59 per cent. When it comes to people who have been waiting as in-patients for longer than two years, the figure has also reduced by 28 per cent since targets were announced. We will continue our record investment in the NHS, to ensure that our staff numbers are at historically high and record levels, and to make sure that our NHS staff remain the best paid anywhere in the UK.”
Public Health Scotland has revealed data disclosing that over 1,500 patients have waited more than three years for hospital treatment.
Dr Sandesh Gulhane, the Conservative health spokesman, said: “Given the unacceptably long secondary care wait times, desperate patients are being forced to continue to see general practitioners, placing greater strain on primary care and taking up appointments, and forcing patients with new issues to wait, leading to them going to accident and emergency departments in desperation. That is a system-wide cycle of despair that contributed to a record number of deaths last winter.
“You have spoken about surgical waiting times, but what about our patients who are waiting for medical clinics, chronic pain management, respiratory care or cardiology? What tangible changes are you making specifically for them?”
But the First Minister batted that one away. He said: “That is exactly why we are investing an additional £300 million to reduce waiting lists for patients who have been waiting for far too long.
“We are doing everything that we possibly can and our NHS staff are doing everything that they possibly can to increase activity to aid the recovery. In-patient day-case activity for quarter 2 was at its highest since the start of the pandemic. In fact, it was the sixth quarterly increase in a row, with 58,813 patients being seen in quarter 2.
“We are increasing activity, but we are also increasing the workforce where we can. We have recently seen historically high numbers of NHS staff, and we are making sure that they continue to be the best paid in the UK.
“What will help us in relation to that NHS activity is making sure that no NHS worker, be it a doctor, a nurse or any of our NHS staff, feels that they have to go on strike because they are not being fairly paid. The Government will continue to make sure that our NHS staff are the best paid in the whole of the UK.”