Health bosses in the Lothians are facing calls to tackle lengthy waiting times by turning back to private hospitals for NHS treatment.
NHS Lothian spent almost £18 million five years ago on operations for patients in independent hospitals to ease the pressure on waiting lists.
But last year that figure fell to just £2.7m, according to figures obtained by Tory health spokesman Miles Briggs.
It comes as patients face waits well beyond the 12-week legally binding treatment time guarantee in areas like urology, orthopaedics, which includes knee and hip operations, as well as endoscopies.
Although the SNP has sought to reduce reliance on private sector facilities, almost £70m has been spent by the NHS north of the border since the nationalists came to power to pay for operations on patients. This has fallen in recent years and the Tories are calling for a rethink to tackle waits.
Briggs, said: “The amount that NHS Lothian is spending on private treatments has been severely reduced by over £14m, but capacity has not been increased.
“It is clear that back in 2014/15 private treatment capacity was assisting NHS Lothian but now we see waiting times have reached record lengths for some specialities, with the amount spent on private treatment being slashed.
“Twelve years of SNP mismanagement of our NHS has failed patients and families.”
NHS Lothians spent £15.7m on in-patient procedures in 2014/15, according to figures obtained through Freedom of Information by Briggs. There was £13.8m of spending a year later in 2015/16, according to the figures. However, the following year this fell away to less than £3 million.
It emerged earlier this year that nine patients at NHS Lothian waited more than a year for an orthopaedic appointment. A further 500 people have endured a wait of 100 days or more for an inpatient procedure.
And it emerged last month that 468 patients were on the “urgent” waiting list for urology operations at the Western General hospital – with an average wait of two months.
There were 465 patients on the “routine” list, but the average was just over four months, according to figures released in a Holyrood answer obtained by Briggs.
NHS Lothian’s own figures show there is a 28-week wait in orthopaedics inpatient appointments before 90 per cent of patients are seen. For urology, it is more than 10 months (42 weeks).
Jacquie Campbell, Chief Officer, Acute Services, NHS Lothian, said: “We continue to work hard to optimise capacity within NHS Lothian to enable us to see more patients in our own hospitals. At the same time, we recognise the importance of the independent sector in helping to reduce waiting times.”