One of Scotland’s largest health boards will start sending patients to private hospitals after rocketing demand left more than 14,000 patients languishing on waiting lists.
Cash-strapped NHS Lothian has been forced to make a u-turn on its decision to stop paying for private care in March due to budget pressures, as waiting lists for outpatient procedures have doubled in the last six months.
The figure is believed to be the highest since the waiting times scandal in 2012, when times were doctored to meet Scottish Government targets.
Lothian waiting lists are double most mainland health boards, as NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde reported 4,093 patients waiting longer than 12 weeks whereas the figure was 3,358 at NHS Lanarkshire.
Finance chiefs told a board meeting yesterday that the backlog was caused by a lack of beds and staff, as well as rising demand caused by the ageing population.
NHS Lothian finance director Susan Goldsmith said: “We have seen such an increase that we decided it had to be addressed by the board.
“It comes down to a need for resources, both financial resources and physical capacity.”
The move prompted fresh questions over the role of NHS targets, which state no patient should wait more than 12 weeks for an outpatient appointment.
Lothian Conservatibe MSP Miles Briggs said: “Clearly it is unacceptable that the number of Lothian patients waiting for more than 12 weeks for key procedures has doubled recently and NHS Lothian needs to take decisive action to address this.
“The fact that NHS Lothian is now turning again to the independent sector to help meet the treatment time guarantee is a very real demonstration of the pressures facing our health service and that it is struggling on its own to meet the demand for routine operations.”
Clearing the backlog is expected to cost more than £6 million, which will be part-funded by the Scottish Government.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring patients get the best treatment and has provided £2.5m to support NHS Lothian’s delivery of elective waiting times during 2016/17.
“We have also recently committed a further £0.4m to NHS Lothian to support outpatient care.”