THE full human cost of the devastating NHS Lothian’s waiting list crisis can be revealed today after it emerged that 550 patients have suffered for more than a year without the surgery they require.
New figures obtained by the Evening News show that more than 200 of those patients – all inpatients or day cases – have been waiting at least 18 months and more than 300 have been stuck on the waiting lists for 15 months or longer.
National guidelines state that inpatients and day case patients should be treated within just nine weeks of being put on a waiting list.
But in the Lothians, nearly 1500 people have been waiting six months or longer, 886 of whom have been on the lists for nine months or more.
The health board today issued a fresh apology to those in the queue, but patient groups, politicians and unions expressed shock at how long people were being forced to wait for operations.
Labour MSP Richard Simpson, shadow minister for public health, said the figures were “astonishing” and called on Holyrood to intervene.
He said: “It is too easy to think of this as just numbers on a list, but each of these cases is a person living with an illness or condition which is affecting their lives. To be waiting months for treatment – and now being farmed out to private hospitals – speaks of the complete breakdown in the management of the NHS in the Lothians.”
Margaret Watt, chairwoman of the Scotland Patients Association, said the situation was a “total embarrassment”.
“People in the Lothians don’t deserve treatment like this – nobody does,” she said.
“I never thought people would be waiting this long, it’s unacceptable and unforgivable. These people are sick now.”
Among the worst affected are those waiting for plastic surgery operations, with 142 waiting more than 18 months and 263 waiting a year or more.
There are more than 100 people waiting 12 months or more for urology procedures, while a combined 139 have been stuck on lists for a year or longer as they wait for orthopaedic, ear, nose and throat or maxillofacial treatment.
One such case, 69-year-old grandmother Betty McAlpine, last week told the News she had been waiting 14 months for an operation to cure bladder problems which had been making her life a misery for five years and had been left “completely in the dark” throughout.
She was given an apology and offered an appointment next month after the News approached the NHS about her plight.
A £20 million plan to clear the waiting lists within months is under way, with thousands being offered treatment in private hospitals.
Tom Waterson, Lothian branch chairman for Unison, said he was surprised by the figures. “These patients are suffering,” he said.
Jackie Sansbury, NHS Lothian’s chief operating officer, said that most patients who had been forced to wait longer needed specialist treatment with individual consultants.
She said: “These figures show the size of the challenge NHS Lothian faces in clearing the backlog of patients who are still waiting for treatment.
“We are in the process of reviewing each case to identify how we can offer patients treatment as swiftly as possible.
“Cases are being prioritised by clinical need and the complexity of the treatment required.
“Once again I would like to offer my apologies to all the patients who have been affected.”
MORE than 3300 patients waiting for inpatient or day case care have been given a date for treatment as NHS Lothian presses ahead with its £20m bid to slash waiting times using private hospitals.
The health board is to send patients to private hospitals in Edinburgh or Glasgow or Golden Jubilee NHS hospital in Clydebank.
Another 1000 on waiting lists are to be contacted directly by those hospitals and may be offered hotel rooms or transport to encourage them to accept the offer of treatment. The health board has said its own capacity is insufficient to treat all of its patients.
Unions said the more than £10m which has been earmarked for private hospitals would be better spent increasing internal capacity within NHS Lothian or sending more patients to other NHS hospitals in Scotland.