A helpline for NHS patients to find out how long they have to wait for treatment has been established following criticism about falsified figures for waiting times.
The advice line will be piloted for 12 months by Scotland’s health information service NHS Inform, which is part of NHS 24, from today.
It is part of a range of measures to “increase transparency and understanding of waiting times” following a critical report by the public spending watchdog, according to the Scottish Government.
Audit Scotland advised that public trust in NHS waiting times is put at risk by falsified figures, and called for it to be restored by the Scottish Government and health boards.
NHS Lothian manipulated waiting time codes in 2011, marking patients as unavailable for “social reasons” such as failing to get time off work or being on holiday. Facing extra pressure to meet shorter 18-week guarantees, it was discovered managers were putting pressure on staff to find ways around the system. This included marking patients as unavailable if they refused to travel to Northumberland in England.
As well as setting up the helpline, the NHS will now send letters to day case and inpatients confirming any requests to have their treatment delayed for any reason, and improve the training of board liaison officers to be able to offer specialist advice.
Health Secretary Alex Neil said: “Patients have an entitlement to be treated as quickly as possible but also at a time that fits in with their lives. This helpline has been set up to ensure there is a single point of contact for patients who are unsure exactly what their rights are, or how long they can expect to wait for treatment. This will help to empower patients and improve their experience of the health service.
“Waiting times continue to be amongst their lowest-ever levels in Scotland, and we want to make sure that patients know what they are entitled to. This information line will also help ensure that waiting times are open, transparent and that patients receive help and support if they need it.”
Marcia Rankin, head of health information services at NHS 24, said: “The new waiting times information line is a single source of information on waiting times for patients in Scotland. The new service will make it easier for people to get clear and accurate guidance on their rights when it comes to waiting times and aims to take any uncertainty away for patients.
“It is another example of how NHS inform is working with the Scottish Government to provide quality-assured health information for patients across Scotland.”