Hospital treatment waiting times surge amid pandemic

Public Health Scotland's NHS waiting time figures for the first three months of 2021 show an increase of 86%.

Hospital treatment waiting times surge amid pandemic PA Wire
The number of patients waiting a year or more for planned hospital treatment reached 28,203 at the end of March.

The number of Scots waiting a year or more for planned hospital treatment has almost doubled in just three months as the second wave of Covid-19 hit – with the latest figures showing 28,203 patients having spent 52 weeks or more on an NHS list.

New waiting time figures showed “increasing” numbers experiencing longer waits for inpatient and day case treatment in NHS Scotland.

At the end of December 2020 there were 15,128 patients who had been waiting a year or more for such treatment.

But as the second wave of Covid-19 hit hospitals across Scotland, that total had increased to 28,203 by the end of March 2021 – a rise of 86.4%

Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said the country was facing a ‘health care crisis’. (Jane Barlow/PA)
Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said the country was facing a ‘health care crisis’. (Jane Barlow/PA)

The Scottish Government’s legally binding Treatment Time Guarantee states that eligible patients should wait no longer than 12 weeks for their treatment.

But Public Health Scotland revealed that at the end of March this year 94,781 patients were waiting for either inpatient or day case treatment – with 61,901 having been on the list for 12 weeks or more.

That is an increase of 120% from the total of 28,118 recorded as waiting 12 weeks or more at the end of March 2020 – although this went on to reach 70,396 at the end of June last year, as the pandemic forced hospitals to pause many routine treatments.

In the period January to March this year, 36,582 patients were admitted to hospital for planned treatment, either as an inpatient or on a day case basis.

That is a drop of 20.4% from the number treated in the last three months of 2020, and 43.4% lower the the first quarter of last year.

Meanwhile, when compared to the three months to the end of March 2019, the number being admitted for treatment is 50.2% lower – with the report saying this “highlights the impact the pandemic has had on the number patients admitted”.

The suspension of non-urgent care by some hospitals contributed to numbers waiting for either inpatient or day case treatment increasing.

The total of 94,781 recorded at the end of March 2021 is 10.5% higher than it was as of December 31, 2020, and was up by 19.6% from the end of March last year.

“The increase in the number waiting in the latest quarter is a consequence of less people being seen due to suspension of non-urgent care by some hospitals mentioned above,” the report noted.

It added that the “long term trend demonstrates the total number of patients waiting for treatment has been gradually increasing over time prior to the pandemic”.

The report said: “This growth accelerated between March and June in response to the emergency measures before levelling off for the remainder of 2020.

“In the most recent quarter, there has again been a large increase due to an increase in the number of additions to the list and a decrease in the number of patients being seen.”

Meanwhile, other figures showed there were 105,630 Scots waiting for one of eight key diagnostic tests at the end of March 2021 – a rise of 4.7% from December 2020 and 24.9% higher than it had been 12 months previously.

And there were 354,782 patients who were waiting for an outpatient appointment – with this total being 4.2% higher than at the end of December 2020 and 14.1% higher than it was on March 31 2019, before the pandemic began.

Labour health spokesperson and deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: “These statistics plainly show that we are in the midst of a healthcare crisis.”

She insisted that “without urgent action to remobilise the NHS, lives will be lost”, adding that new health secretary Humza Yousaf has “no time to lose”.

Baillie said: “We have no time to dither and delay. The SNP need to take urgent action to save lives and they need to take it now.”