Children 'forced to wait' for spine operations at Sick Kids
A LEADING surgeon has accused the Scottish Executive of failing to tackle long waits for children needing specialist back operations at the Sick Kids.
Thanos Tsirikos has also criticised its decision to spend up to 1.5 million treating some of the children with potentially fatal spine deformities near London, rather than investing in better services at the Edinburgh hospital.
The children would have been treated quicker and closer to home, he said, if an offer by him and his colleagues to work at weekends had been accepted.
Mr Tsirikos and his colleague, Michael McMaster, run the Scottish National Paediatric Spine Deformity Service at the Sick Kids. They are the only specialists in Scotland qualified to conduct risky operations to correct a condition called scoliosis.
The surgeons warned in January that they were being overwhelmed by cases after the Sick Kids was designated a national service for children from across Scotland needing back surgery.
The decision was taken then to allocate up to 1.5m so 40 of the worst affected children could be sent for treatment at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital at Stanmore in Middlesex.
But today Mr Tsirikos said delays there meant many had ended up worse off than they would have been if some of the cash had been invested in services at the Sick Kids.
And he said other youngsters were still waiting six months for a consultation and a further six months for surgery.
Currently there are 50 children whose condition is getting worse while they wait for an operation in Edinburgh.
Mr Tsirikos said: "If the health authorities are prepared to pay huge amounts of money for 39 patients, why shouldn't they put some of that money into our service. That would increase capacity, get more surgeons and treat patients locally, which would be better for the families and the patients. We would also be able to better control quality of care for these patients.
"We have even offered to do Saturday operating. That would allow us to go through a large number of patients in all these six months at a quarter of the cost."
A new surgeon is set to start work in October, but Mr Tsirikos said at least one other specialist was required, along with a dedicated operating theatre, so surgery could take place five days a week.
He added: "We eventually convinced them to get another surgeon, but now we've got to convince them for more capacity for the service. We still need more theatre time and people to operate. The situation remains as pressurised as it was this time last year, and it will always stay the same as long as we don't increase the capacity as a whole.
"The difficulty we have is that this situation is simply unsustainable in the long term and there has to be an end."
A Scottish Executive spokesman said only six children referred to Stanmore Hospital were waiting for operations and all but one would be admitted in the next two weeks.
He said: "The decision to offer procedures at Stanmore to around 40 children was taken on clinical grounds based on the best interests of the children concerned.
"The decision to conduct the operations in England was to relieve pressure from the Scottish service and get the operations done as quickly as possible.
"It is accepted that the cost is in excess of 1m, but since this is a designated national service the decision was a nationwide response to the plight of these very vulnerable children."
Nanette Milne, health spokesman for the Conservatives, said: "Patients if they require treatment need to get that in the best way and as quickly as possible.
"Clearly if, by taking the action of taking people further away from their home to be treated isn't working, then they need to look again. Assuming the surgeons are available to provide the extra time and that brings effective treatment to patients more quickly then that would be the best way to go."
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