HUNDREDS of people are waiting far longer than they should for a potentially life-saving medical examination – because of where they live.
New figures have shown that waiting lists for diagnostic endoscopy procedures, which can detect conditions such as cancer or stomach ulcers, are spiralling across the Lothians.
At the end of September, 1224 people had waited four weeks or longer for an endoscopy – more than the 13 other health board areas combined.
NHS Lothian has launched a new action plan to deal with the rocketing figures, which will see an increasing number of endoscopies performed by private providers alongside the recruitment of new staff.
But MSPs from across the political divide called on Health Secretary Alex Neil to intervene, after NHS Lothian figures revealed the gap is widening, with the number waiting longer than six weeks almost doubling from 609 in September to 1124 last month.
Labour Lothians MSP Sarah Boyack said: “These huge delays for endoscopy tests are the worst across Scotland. Patient care will be affected as a result of this backlog.”
Conservative deputy leader and health spokesperson Jackson Carlaw said patients in Lothian would “rightly feel they are getting a poorer service compared with other parts of the country”.
He added: “Clearly, there is a problem with the senior management at NHS Lothian and it is perhaps time the new Health Secretary Alex Neil intervened to bring this health board into line.”
There were no patients waiting longer than four weeks in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Grampian, Orkney and Shetland areas, and fewer than 10 in Borders, Dumfries and Galloway, Tayside and Highland.
Those included in the figures are awaiting both upper and lower endoscopies and colonoscopies, which sees a tube with a light and camera used so that doctors can see inside patients’ digestive systems.
The Lothian figures do not include the 2833 patients who are overdue an endoscopy for surveillance, rather than diagnostic, purposes.
The Evening News revealed in September that of the thousands of patients on the screening programme who were overdue the scope, some should have been seen in 2008.
At the time, former Edinburgh MP John Barrett, who was treated for bowel cancer after he was diagnosed by a doctor using a colonoscopy last year, said the checks were a matter of “life and death”.
Deborah Alsina, CEO at Bowel Cancer UK, today branded the delays “completely unacceptable” and said they were putting lives at risk.
She said: “I urge NHS Lothian and the Scottish Government to make the necessary investment immediately to ensure that people have access to these essential services now and in the future.”
NHS Lothian medical director Dr David Farquharson said the number of patients being referred for endoscopies had risen in recent months due to the large number of patients being treated in the successful drive to reduce inpatient and outpatient waiting times.
He said: “In order to ensure these patients are seen promptly, we have recruited external firms, invested in additional staff and will work with external providers.
“Demand for endoscopy has trebled in recent years, partly due to an ageing population with multiple health conditions. The introduction of the national bowel screening programme in 2007 has also led to a significant increase in numbers.”