One of Scotland’s largest health boards has admitted it is unlikely to meet a vital waiting times guarantee as it can no longer afford to rely on the private sector for help.
Thousands of people face waiting longer for elective surgeries after NHS Lothian revealed plans to stop its custom of sending patients to private hospitals to reduce waiting times, which costs around £12 million per year.
The decision is likely to heap pressure on the cash-strapped health board, as it already does not have the capacity or the staff to meet the Scottish Government’s 12-week Treatment Time Guarantee.
Many health boards have struggled to meet the legally-binding guarantee, which was introduced by Nicola Sturgeon in 2010 when she was health secretary, and critics claim the legislation is toothless as there is no penalty for failing to meet the target.
NHS Lothian also raised concerns over “very immediate pressure” in cancer services and primary care, in a paper published this week on its 2016/17 plan. The document laid bare the “significant challenges” faced by the board – which is struggling to plug a £77m funding gap – including the costly PFI contract for the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and the pressures of an ageing population.
Lothian Labour MSP Neil Findlay said: “We are seeing boards across the country face extreme financial pressures, and following the latest example from NHS Lothian the SNP government can’t continue to stick their heads in the sand.”
Nursing leaders called for an urgent rethink on the raft of NHS targets, which they say are heaping pressure on stretched services.
Theresa Fyffe, Royal College of Nursing Scotland (RCN) director, said: “The targets in place at the moment focus on the wrong things – looking at processes and not patient outcomes. Nurses don’t want to go back to a time when patients waited months for treatment.”
Craig Marriot, NHS Lothian deputy finance director, said: “We are developing plans to re-invest money previously spent in the independent sector into NHS Lothian and increase capacity to bring these procedures in house.
“We know this will have an impact on patient waiting times and we will continue to work hard to provide swift, effective patient-centred care.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “NHS boards have consistently received above inflation increases in frontline spending and need to use those resources.”