‘Guarantee’ flouted as patients wait up to 30 months for treatment

Jeane Freeman. Picture: AFP/Getty
Jeane Freeman. Picture: AFP/Getty
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Patients who are legally entitled to start their NHS treatment within 12 weeks are instead being made to wait for up to two-and-a-half years, new data has revealed..

Patients who are legally entitled to start their NHS treatment within 12 weeks are instead being made to wait for up to two-and-a-half years, new data has revealed..

In the past two years alone, more than 12,000 patients have been stuck on waiting lists of six months or more before being treated, according to data gathered from the nation’s health boards and released today.

One patient in Tayside was kept waiting for 896 days during 2017-18. Two others waited for 577 days and 503 days, in Ayrshire and Arran, and Lanarkshire respectively.

Under the treatment time guarantee (TTG), which was enshrined in law by the SNP in 2012, people who need inpatient or day surgery have the legal right to be seen within 12 weeks.

But the guarantee has since been broken by Scotland’s 14 health boards more than 150,000 times as they struggle to cope with demand.

The information showing the scale of the waits was obtained by the Scottish Liberal Democrats through a series of Freedom of Information requests.

At least 76 patients waited more than a year before being seen in 2016-17 – a figure that rose to 374 the following year. At least 434 people have currently been on waiting lists for more than a year.

In October, health secretary Jeane Freeman told MSPs the TTG target was not expected to be met in all cases until March 2021, announcing £650 million of new funding to tackle the issue.

The three-year commitment comes on top of £200m already being spent on new elective treatment centres.

Lib Dem health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said while patients already knew the TTG was being “routinely breached”, the scale of the problem was “shocking”.

“The number of people waiting over a year for procedures, when the law says it should take no longer than 12 weeks, is going up and up,” he said. “This is disrupting people’s lives and work, leaving them in discomfort and pain.

“Patients are still sent letters telling them of their rights under the law Nicola Sturgeon put pen to paper on. But these letters, like the law itself, are not worth a jot.

“The Scottish Government’s solution is to stop breaching its own law by 2021 – a full decade after it was passed. [We] demand better.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The health secretary has been clear that we want to stop anyone from waiting too long for treatment and that it is not acceptable for this to happen.

“That is why the Scottish Government recently launched its new £850m Waiting Times Improvement Plan.

“The plan sets out action to increase capacity, increase clinical effectiveness and efficiency and design and implement new models of care.”

An NHS Tayside spokeswoman said: “Such long waits are rare and can relate to many factors. These include elective treatment being postponed due to a high demand for emergency procedures, medical staff assessing individual patients as being clinically unfit for surgery and patients advising us that they are unavailable for surgery due to personal reasons.”