Waiting list crisis remedy costs rocket to £27m for health chiefs

THE cost of sorting out Lothian’s waiting lists crisis is set to spiral to almost £27million, the Evening News can reveal.

In June, NHS Lothian announced a £20m plan to treat thousands of patients who had been waiting too long for treatment – but health bosses have admitted the forecast was too low and now expect to spend £26.8m by March.

NHS Lothian said the costs, largely earmarked for buying private hospital places, boosting NHS capacity and introducing private company Medinet to treat patients in NHS hospitals, had risen as “estimates become a reality”.

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The health board said the extra cash would be found through “routine contingency measures”, but fears emerged patient care could suffer and staffing levels drop to pay for the multi-million pound rise.

Labour Lothians MSP Sarah Boyack said the revelation demonstrated the mounting pressure NHS Lothian is under. She said: “This money will have to be found from somewhere. I am concerned at the knock-on impact this could have – whether it is cutting back nursing staff - or putting off maintenance work to keep our hospitals fit for patient care. In September the cost of addressing the waiting lists was within forecast. Now, two months later, we are told costs have rocketed by over a third.”

Ms Boyack called on the government to “open its eyes” and ensure the health board had the resources to address “failings that clearly exist”.

At the end of October, £15.2m had been spent on waiting times issues, with patients waiting for inpatient or day case treatment for more than 12 weeks falling from 2000 in April to 893 in October, and outpatients waiting 12 weeks or more dropping to 3176, from 5177 in June.

NHS Lothian said factors behind the cost increase included the establishment of a separate recovery plan to cope with pressure in endoscopy, start-up costs for developing internal capacity, hiring a high number of locums to work in anaesthetics and higher than expected Medinet costs.

Fewer patients than expected accepted offers of treatment at the Golden Jubilee NHS hospital in Clydebank, and were sent to more expensive private facilities in the Capital instead.

Tom Waterson, Unison branch chair for Lothian, said: “Unfortunately, this doesn’t surprise me. To fix the waiting lists they rushed in and ran at it, instead of standing back and working out how to do it.”

The £20m plan was in part financed by the government, which provided a £10m loan to be repaid over two years. But a spokesperson confirmed there was “no change to the funding agreement”, leaving the health board to cover the excess cost.

NHS Lothian’s director of finance, Susan Goldsmith, said: “We have looked at the reserves within the organisation and we will be able to meet the increased costs through our routine contingency measures and will continue to work with the Scottish Government.”