Waiting time target missed by NHS in Scotland

hospital ward Image copyright PA

The NHS in Scotland has missed a target to treat 90% of patients within 18 weeks, according to the latest figures.

In December 2014, 89% of people waited less than 18 weeks from the point they were referred by their doctor.

This is the second time the target has been missed.

During the quarter from October to December last year, the NHS also failed to meet a legal obligation for treatment to start within 12 weeks of it being agreed by a specialist.

More than 2,000 patients across Scotland waited longer than that during those three months. The NHS has never met the 12-week legal requirement.

The Scottish government said 97% of patients were being treated within 12 weeks and insisted that the NHS only just missed the 18-week target.

The latest statistics for referral to treatment are similar to England, where almost 89% of patients were seen within 18 weeks during the same period.

In December last year, nine of Scotland's 14 health boards met the 90% target. The five that did not were:

  • NHS Ayrshire and Arran - 82.8%
  • NHS Fife - 86.7%
  • NHS Forth Valley - 89.7%
  • NHS Grampian - 84.9%
  • NHS Lothian - 86.3%

The official figures do not include data from NHS Highland. The overall Scottish figures for October and November were 89.8% and 88.4% respectively.


Eleanor Bradford, BBC Scotland health correspondent

To be fair, what these latest statistics suggest is that most people do get their treatment within the 12 and 18-week targets, but there's no point setting targets if you're not going to hit them.

The 12 and 18 week targets were chosen by the Scottish government to show the NHS is performing effectively.

If it can't meet its own targets, something has gone badly wrong.

However, the reasons why the NHS is struggling to treat people quickly are less clear.

We know it is facing tighter budgets and rising costs, but we also know the flu jab didn't work very well this year, which may have added to the pressure.

Another target - for patients who require one of eight key diagnostic tests, such as CT and MRI scans, to wait no longer than six weeks - was met in 90.3% of cases as at December.

However, when compared to the position at December 2013 and September 2014, this has decreased from 96.2% and 91.0% respectively.

Health Secretary Shona Robison said: "Health boards across Scotland continue to deliver some of the lowest waiting times on record.

"This performance was maintained as we headed into the challenging winter period last year, but we know we must do more to meet some of the rightly demanding targets we have set. Patients would expect nothing less.

"Today's figures showing that 97.1% of inpatients and day-case patients were seen within 12 weeks compared to the 85% who were seen within 18 weeks during January to March 2007.

"This included Scotland's largest health board, NHS Glasgow, which saw 99.9% of patients within the 12-week treatment time guarantee."

Extra support

She added: "However, much more needs to be done and we are committed to getting the right structures in place to ensure everyone is seen within the target time.

"I have made this clear to all boards and we will continue to work closely with them to help them deliver this."

Last week, the Scottish government announced the first allocation from its £31.5m performance fund to frontline services.

The £10m allocation is targeted at boards who need extra support to deliver on waiting times targets, including the 12-week patient treatment time guarantee as well as diagnostic and outpatient waiting times.

Earlier this month Scotland's accident and emergency departments recorded one of their worst performances in recent years.

One in 10 people waited longer than four hours to be seen in October, November and December.

The Scottish government has since announced that A&E waiting time figures will be published weekly from the beginning of March.

Newly-released statistics also showed the NHS in Scotland has failed to meet a target for children's mental health services.

Ninety percent of children should be treated within 26 weeks, but only 86% of children were seen during this timeframe between October and December last year.

'Deserve better'

Scottish Labour accused the Scottish government of letting thousands of patients down and "failing young Scots with mental health problems".

The party's health spokeswoman Jenny Marra MSP said: "Shona Robison must get on top of this immediately. Hard working NHS staff are doing the best they can but they are sorely lacking support from the SNP ministers in Edinburgh.

"Thousands of patients across the country are having their legal rights breached and thousands more are being let down when they have to wait and wait for treatment."

The Liberal Democrats' health spokesman Jim Hume MSP said the Scottish government had "taken its eye off the ball".

He added: "From A&E units to mental health treatments, the goodwill of NHS staff is being relied upon in the face of a shortage of beds and staff.

"NHS staff and patients deserve better and they deserve for the health secretary to explain exactly how she is going to ensure the Scottish government meets its legal obligations."

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