Longer waiting times as NHS attends ageing nation

Alex Neil says there will not be cuts in frontline spending. Picture: John Devlin

Alex Neil says there will not be cuts in frontline spending. Picture: John Devlin

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PATIENTS could face longer ­delays for hospital appointments as a damning report into financial pressures on the Scottish NHS today warns that a drive to cut waiting times may have to be “reconsidered”.

The study from Audit Scotland said that spiralling healthcare costs driven by an ageing population and the increasing cost of drugs could affect NHS Scotland’s “strong focus” on shortening waiting times.

The report pointed to the fact that despite “significant efforts,” the NHS did not meet some key waiting time targets last year. It said that only three of the key waiting time targets were met nationally: for people with drug and alcohol issues; cancer patients; and access to mental health services for children and young people.

Dr Jean Turner, executive director of the Scotland Patients’ Association, said: “The problem which may arise is that waiting times for the diagnosis of health problems may increase. If a person has to wait too long for diagnosis of cancer or a cardiac problem, the result is that the outcome could get a lot worse.”

Under the Patients’ Rights Act introduced two years ago, people have a legal right to receive planned in-patient or day-case treatment within 12 weeks of the treatment being agreed.

A&E waiting time targets were temporarily lowered from April last year from 98 per cent of patients to be seen within four hours to 95 per cent, while many boards are struggling to meet outpatient waiting times and delayed-discharge targets. Audit Scotland found that a total of 421,157 hospital days were lost due to delayed discharges over the period.

Health minister Alex Neil said he would have to “refresh” the Scottish Government’s ambitious “2020 Vision” policy to meet the “changing needs” of the Scottish people, but insisted that there would not be cuts to frontline spending.

He said: “The NHS is not perfect, and we’re always seeking to make improvements. This report highlights the pressures the NHS is facing as it continues to treat more people than ever before, who have more long-term conditions.

“But we need to make sure our plan develops to meet the changing needs of the people of Scotland and delivers our overall objectives of being a top modern healthcare service that provides quality care, improves the health of the Scottish public and tackles inequalities.”

Despite meeting their financial targets in 2013-14, some Scottish health boards are doing so “in unsustainable ways”, the ­report warned. Audit Scotland said the Scottish Government spent £12 billion on health and wellbeing in 2013-14.

Dr Peter Bennie, chairman of the BMA in Scotland, warned that “tough decisions” would be required to ensure the sustainability of the NHS.

He said: “This report reflects the significant challenges for the NHS that doctors across Scotland have told us are affecting their ability to provide high quality patient care to the people of Scotland.”

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