ALMOST 100,000 Scottish patients were forced to travel outside their local area for hospital treatment last year, official figures have revealed.
The numbers have been growing steadily in recent years and 2015 represents a new high, prompting opposition concerns about the strain on the NHS.
Patients face longer, more expensive journeysJim Hume, Lib Dems
Patients often travel outside their local areas in order to meet waiting-time targets if particular speciality areas are under pressure in their own health board.
The Scottish Government insisted there are “good reasons” why patients may travel for treatment and said the most important thing was that they were receiving the appropriate care.
In 2014, 99,791 people were admitted to hospitals outside their local health board area, according to the figures which were obtained by Liberal Democrat health spokesman Jim Hume through a Parliamentary question.
This compares with 642,000 who are treated within their own area, suggesting about one in eight are forced to travel.
There have been year-on-year increases since 2011.
“There may be good medical reasons for treating patients outside their local health board,” Mr Hume said last night.
“But these figures are stark, and suggest that services are under real pressure. Almost 100,000 people were admitted to hospitals for treatment outwith their local area.
“What this could mean is patients and their families facing longer and more expensive journeys and extra stress at what may already be a difficult time.
“We know that bed blocking remains a problem in many areas and we have seen the number of beds for older patients fall on the SNP’s watch. We need to understand why so many patients are being asked to travel outside their health board for treatment.”
He added: “Ministers need to ensure that doctors and nurses are getting the support they require to give patients the treatment they need as close to home as possible.”
The figures show that in 2011 630,709 patients were treated in their own NHS area, but there were 91,231 who were sent outwith their local board’s jurisdiction. This rose to 94,939 patients being sent outwith their area in 2012.
In 2013 there were 640,450 treated locally, while the number being forced to travel rose again to 95,462.
The Scottish Government’s minister for public health, Maureen Watt, last night defended the situation. There are very good reasons why people are treated outside their board areas,” she said.
“Specialist care is provided in the most appropriate environment, regardless of board boundaries. In many cases it is easier for a patient to go to a hospital in a neighbouring board area because it is nearer their home.
“There are many other patients who start their care in their own area and are then referred to a regional centre for specialist treatment.
“For example, these figures include the Golden Jubilee Hospital in Clydebank, which is a world-class national centre providing treatments such as heart transplants and cardiac bypass surgery.”