The UK Statistics Authority said the decision to exclude patients who have “not yet been treated” in waiting time figures “could potentially mislead some patients”.
It comes as waiting times in Scotland’s accident and emergency (A&E) departments recorded their worst ever monthly performance on record. Figures for September showed the four-hour waiting time target was missed for more than three out of ten patients.
A total of 5,296 patients spent 12 hours or more in A&E – about one in 25 patients (4.2 per cent).
Scottish Labour, who raised the ‘misleading’ issue with the watchdog, said it was time for ministers to “drop the spin and face the music”.
The criticism centres on the NHS Inform dashboard, which provides information on waiting times for treatments. It includes the number of people treated in the previous quarter and their median wait times, but excludes those still waiting for treatment.
In a letter, Sir Robert Chote, chair of the UK Statistics Authority, said: “ However, patients who have not yet been treated, some of whom may have been waiting a long time, are not included in these medians. Therefore the dashboard could potentially mislead some patients about the length of time they may have to wait, particularly if treatment is not classified as urgent.”
Public Health Scotland must now make improvements to the dashboard to fully “reflect the range of waiting times experienced by patients”.
Scottish Labour’s health spokesperson and deputy leader Jackie Baillie accused the SNP of “spin”. “Try as they might to spin the stats, the truth is plain to see – this SNP Government is crashing our NHS,” she said.
“From massaging A&E figures to misrepresenting waiting times, there is nothing that this SNP government will not stoop to in order to hide their failures. The people of Scotland can see that this is a do-nothing health minister who is presiding over chaos in our NHS. It’s time for Humza Yousaf to drop the spin and face the music.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We have received the letter from the UK Statistics Authority and we will continue to work with Public Health Scotland to review and address the key points raised. We are regularly engaging with users to gather feedback and improve the online site. We will consider what additional metrics can be added as part of that review to ensure we are representing the range of waiting times experienced by patients as some will wait shorter than the median, and some will wait longer.”
The latest A&E figures, which cover the seven days to October 23, showed the four-hour target was met for fewer than two thirds (65 per cent) of patients in that period.
The opposition branded the latest data “utterly appalling”, claiming that there is now a “full-blown crisis that requires immediate action” in A&E.
One in ten (10.2 per cent) of patients were there for a minimum of eight hours – a total of 13,506 people.
The Scottish Tories branded the latest data “utterly appalling”, claiming there was now a “full-blown crisis that requires immediate action” in A&E.
The statistics come amid warnings the NHS is facing a challenging winter, with health secretary Humza Yousaf conceding: “Our performance is not where I want it to be.”
But Scottish Conservative health spokesman Dr Sandesh Gulhane blasted: “Under Humza Yousaf’s chronic mismanagement, A&E monthly waiting times were the worst on record in September – so winter scarcely bears thinking about.”