LABOUR has written to the Auditor General for Scotland to demand a nationwide investigation into a “hidden waiting lists scandal” in hospitals.
NHS Lothian has been accused of manipulating waiting times figures to meet targets.
Health secretary Nicola Sturgeon ordered an investigation into the management culture of the board and said they had betrayed patients by marking them as unavailable to artificially reduce the number of people in breach of the statutory waiting times guarantees.
It emerged last week that NHS Lothian had asked patients to go to appointments in England. When they declined, they were not included on a list of patients having to wait more than 18 weeks for treatment.
A report by professional services firm PwC added: “However, offering patients treatment in England was only one example of the problematic issues with NHS Lothian’s waiting times management.”
Sturgeon said PwC had detailed “completely unacceptable practices”.
Labour wants an investigation into the practice across the country and said it is “concerned that the practice may have been replicated across Scotland”, with figures from other areas showing a similar trend to NHS Lothian.
Figures obtained by the party from the Office for National Statistics show that the number of patients recorded as unavailable for treatment for “social” reasons rose from 4,967 in March 2008 to 15,824 in December 2011.
Shadow health secretary Jackie Baillie said: “Given the extraordinary revelations from the last week, I simply cannot believe this is confined to one health board alone.
“The mysterious increase of patients being unavailable for appointments for so-called ‘social’ reasons across Scotland suggests that this could just be the tip of the iceberg.
“Nicola Sturgeon brought in independent auditors when it became clear NHS Lothian’s own investigation was failing to identify what was really going on.
“Why is Nicola Sturgeon therefore so desperate to avoid an independent investigation into other health boards? We need full confidence that waiting time statistics can be trusted and are not being massaged elsewhere.
“Until we have such an investigation, how can we have any confidence that the SNP’s waiting time statistics are worth the paper they are written on?”
In a statement to parliament last week, the health secretary said her reaction to the report on NHS Lothian was one of “disappointment and considerable anger”.
She said: “Waiting times guarantees matter. Patients value them and staff work hard to deliver them.
“I will not tolerate the manipulation of them.”