New figures released by NHS Lothian have shown that the number of outpatients waiting longer than the 12-week target for an appointment rose by 12.5 per cent last month, from 4601 to 5177 – and the figure is expected to rise further.
Previously, patients who required surgery would always be seen by an NHS Lothian surgeon during an initial consultation, and following that appointment they could potentially be offered an operation in a private hospital.
But under the new “see and treat” plan aimed at reducing the size of the outpatient list, more than 3000 patients would be seen by a consultant working in the private sector.
The health board says the new initiative will help cut waiting times and “improve continuity of care throughout the patient journey”. But concerns over the plan have been raised amid claims that more NHS staff should be brought in rather than private doctors.
Andrew Jackson, associate director at NHS Lothian, said many of the health board’s consultants were already working their full contracted hours, and that external consultants would provide help as long-term measures to increase internal capacity are introduced.
“Our current guys’ hands are already full,” he said. “The real attraction is that this allows us a way to bring in additional volume to see patients very quickly. They will be brought in to work in partnership and are an extra pairs of hands.
“If I was on a waiting list but knew I was going to be seen by someone appropriately trained, I would welcome that.”
The outpatients would be seen by private sector doctors in clinics in NHS Lothian facilities, and most would then be treated in NHS Lothian hospitals by the outside teams at weekends.
They could also be sent to Golden Jubilee NHS hospital in Clydebank or private hospitals in Edinburgh or Glasgow if they required inpatient treatment, or transferred to be treated by NHS Lothian directly, if it was necessary.
Private firm Medinet will carry out the work, and Mr Jackson said he did not envisage members of NHS Lothian staff working privately for the company.
Those waiting for outpatient appointments in gastroenterology, urology, general surgery, plastic surgery and ophthalmology departments are among those to whom the new policy would apply.
The Evening News revealed earlier this month that 550 patients on the inpatient waiting list had been waiting more than a year for treatment, but those on the outpatient list are also facing significant waits.