Website ‘could have exposed waiting list fiddle’

THE waiting times scandal within NHS Lothian could have been exposed sooner had a new patient feedback website been in place while staff were deliberately fiddling figures, Scotland’s Health Minister has claimed.

Alex Neil, who launched the national roll-out of the independent Patient Opinion website at the Scottish Ambulance Service’s Peffermill station yesterday, said the fact that thousands of patients were waiting too long for operations but were not being included in official NHS Lothian figures may have been flagged up earlier and dealt with more robustly had the system been in operation.

The website, which provides patients with a way to provide positive or negative feedback on health services, is to be adopted by NHS Lothian patients by the end of the year following a £160,000 investment from the Scottish Government.

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Mr Neil said: “If there was a big problem with waiting times you would expect many patients to go on to the website and record their concerns. Because of the numbers who would have complained – if it had been a large number over a period of weeks or months – we would have picked that up. Once it gets to a dozen folk or whatever, making the same complaint about the same issue, then very clearly there’s a message coming through loud and clear that there’s a problem. We would have been able to identify that problem quicker and been able to deal with it much more robustly.”

While traditional means of providing feedback will remain in place, it is believed the website system will provide a “real-time” dialogue between patients and the NHS. Patient Opinion will provide monthly reports and flag up any emerging issues immediately.

But MSP Jackson Carlaw, Tory health spokesman, disputed Mr Neil’s claim that the waiting times scandal could have been uncovered by the website. He said: “This system may well weed out some problems, but to suggest it could have prevented the waiting list scandal is far-fetched. What would have prevented that was proper behaviour from the management there, who instead of encouraging patient feedback presided over a culture of bullying.”