Scotland politics

NHS patients not treated fast enough, say MSPs

Hospital room. Pic: SPL Image copyright SPL
Image caption The committee said many patients were not receiving the treatment within the legally guaranteed time of 12 weeks

Concerns have been raised by MSPs that NHS patients in Scotland are not getting hospital treatment fast enough.

Hugh Henry, convener of Holyrood's audit committee, said the health service was failing to meet the legal 12-week treatment guarantee.

The Labour MSP said the Scottish government must outline how the target would be met.

Health Secretary Alex Neil said the health service was "consistently close" to hitting it 100% of the time.

Mr Henry's comments came following an audit committee assessment of an investigation into NHS performance by the public spending watchdog, Audit Scotland, which called for more support to help the health service meet its targets.

Mr Henry said the cross-party committee recognised that there had been waiting time improvements, and that 100% compliance of the target would be difficult to achieve.

Treatment guarantee

But he added: "Our committee has genuine concern that many patients in Scotland are not receiving the treatment they are fully entitled to receive within 12 weeks of their treatment being agreed.

"During the six months from 1 October 2012 to 31 March 2013 alone, there were 1,217 recorded breaches of the treatment time guarantee - that's NHS patients not receiving the service to which they are legally entitled.

"We have therefore called for the Scottish government to explain how it will monitor and support the NHS to reduce these breaches."

Following a target put in place in March 2010, no patient should have to wait more than 12 weeks for their first outpatient appointment.

But only three health boards - Orkney, Western Isles and the Golden Jubilee National Hospital - have met the guarantee each month since its introduction.

Performance improvement

Mr Neil, said: "Waiting time targets are important and the length of time patients are waiting has improved dramatically over recent years.

"Indeed, patients now benefit from the treatment time guarantee and we are consistently treating close to 100% of people within that time.

"In the context of the thousands of people who use the NHS every day, this is an achievement to be welcomed, but we know we must continue to strive to get as close to 100% as possible and we will be working with boards across Scotland to ensure investment and clear plans are in place to go on improving performance."

Last week, it also emerged fewer patients were being treated by the NHS within the government's target of 18 weeks after being referred by their GP.

For the first time since the system was introduced, the proportion fell below 90%.

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