Longest waits in UK for Lothian patients

A NEW guide today revealed that patients in the Lothians have among the worst waits in the UK to see a consultant in orthopaedics.

But waiting times for heart patients are among the best in the country.

The new Waiting List Guide compares waiting times for 40 of the most common medical procedures at hospitals across the UK.

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It showed that the city’s new Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, the Western General Hospital and St John’s Hospital in Livingston are all in the bottom 20 per cent in the UK for orthopaedics - hip, knee, back and foot care.

Patients were waiting 93 days from referral by their GP to see an orthopaedics consultant at the Royal and the Western - 24 days longer than the UK average of 69 days. At St John’s, patients waited 79 days - still ten days more than the UK average.

But in cardiology all three Lothians hospitals were better than the national average of 51 days, with the Royal and the Western taking 41 days for a referred patient to see a heart specialist.

St John’s took 21 days, which was in the top 20 per cent in the UK.

Patients in the Lothians needing cardiothoracic surgery - such as a heart bypass or a heart or lung transplant - can also expect to see a consultant quicker than patients in most of the rest of the UK.

Both the Royal and the Western saw patients in 18 days - which was 11 days faster than the UK average of 29 days, putting the two hospitals in the top 20 per cent in the UK. Figures for cardiothoracic surgery were not available for St John’s.

Guide producer, Norwich Union Healthcare, said the new independently-produced publication gave the public the first chance to analyse waiting times in detail.

They hoped patients would use the guide to question their GPs and give themselves a better chance of getting the quickest, most appropriate treatment.

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That seemed to be particularly important in Scotland where new research from Norwich Union Healthcare, also revealed today, showed that, while more than half of adults in Scotland had been referred to a specialist, nine out of ten never questioned the referral or asked to see a different specialist or consultant - even if it meant a shorter wait.

Roger Taylor, research director for the new guide, said: "Patients should use this information to discuss their treatment with their GP. Although waiting times are only one aspect of hospital care, we believe these figures are helpful in giving the public a head start in identifying where they might be able to get treatment on the NHS more quickly."

Waiting times have caused controversy since the Executive took charge of health north of the Border.

Treatment for heart problems have been a particular focus for the Executive, which lists chronic heart disease as one of its three clinical priorities. Orthopaedics has also been a major target for action.

The new independent guide covers 11 separate specialities, also including gastroenterology and ophthalmology.

Its publication follows a recent pledge by Health Minister Malcolm Chisholm to allow patients in Scotland, for the first time, to choose which hospital they are treated in. The aim of the offer was to allow people to opt to go to hospitals outside their area if they wanted faster treatment times.

The minister announced the move last October , following his pledge to take "radical" action after the Evening News revealed that patients needing orthopaedic surgery in the Lothians faced "outrageous" waits of up to two years just to see a consultant - before they even get on the actual waiting list for surgery.

Patient groups have long been critical of the so-called postcode lottery of care - where people get different treatment depending on where they live.

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That has tended to mean that in larger, more populated areas like the Lothians people have faced far longer waits than residents in more remote places .

Overall the guide showed that the focus on combating heart problems both north and south of the Border seemed to be paying off. Since 1998, the average total waiting time for a heart bypass procedure fell by over eight per cent from 229 days to 210 days.