Health chiefs aim to cure huge waiting list backlog

HEALTH chiefs have been forced to hire more surgeons, open defunct theatres and send patients for private treatment to tackle a backlog of thousands of Lothian patients on a massive hidden waiting list.

The Evening News can also reveal that external auditors have been brought in to probe the health board’s official figures on hitting Scottish Government waiting time targets for the length of time patients should wait for procedures.

The exceptional measures come after concerns were raised about the way local queues were being tackled.

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NHS Lothian was criticised earlier this month after it emerged patients who were offered the option of surgery in England were taken off the government target list, even if they refused.

As a result, the health board has now identified 2945 patients who have had to wait longer than three months to receive surgery.

After a News investigation, it has confirmed it will bring in auditors to examine how the board failed to treat patients within the acceptable time period. The audit will also look at where cash was spent.

Today, Jackie Sansbury, chief operating officer of NHS Lothian, insisted the recording of waiting lists had been overhauled and that the board had already published “open and transparent” updated figures this week.

She said: “We have been absolutely rigorous around the recording of our figures since the allegations about waiting times came to light in October.”

The new measures to deal with the backlog are likely to be paid for by millions of pounds in extra funding from the Scottish Government.

They will see operations carried out at evenings and weekends and patients sent to private hospitals.

A disused operating theatre at the Western General will also be reopened and new specialist surgeons will be taken on.

The extent of the backlog was detailed in a report to the NHS Lothian board this week. It showed that in October just 94 patients were on the official list of outpatients who had missed waiting time targets, while there were 750 on the inpatient list.

In November – after the practice of removing patients was banned – there were nearly 1400 outpatients and 1550 inpatients waiting for surgery.

Lothians MSP Sarah Boyack, who raised the issue with the Health Secretary at Holyrood, welcomed the moves.

She told the Evening News: “I’m glad we’ve got the details of these waiting lists out into the open and that it’s forced the issue of enough treatment being provided for patients in the Lothians.

“The report we discussed in parliament made it clear that patients must be given a reasonable offer and not bumped off the list if they can’t make an operation in another city.

“The detail of this is crucial. The next phase will be seeing if the new resources being put in place will actually make a difference.”

Professor James Barbour, chief executive of NHS Lothian, added: “I welcome the support from the Scottish Government in terms of additional funding and the expertise they are giving us in recognition of our particular circumstances.”