More than 1,400 people waiting over three years for NHS treatment

Compared to before the Covid pandemic, the number of patients waiting for treatment 'has more than doubled' from average levels seen across quarters in 2019.

More than 1,400 people waiting over three years for NHS treatment, figures show PA Media

The number of Scots waiting for NHS treatment has increased – with new statistics showing more than 1,400 people have been on the list for over three years.

Overall, the number of people waiting for treatment, an appointment or tests fell from 828,398 at the end of September 2023 to 824,725 by the end of the year.

This included a total of 155,311 patients who were waiting for hospital treatment, either as an in-patient or on a day-case basis – with this up by 2,056 (1.3%) from the end of September.

Compared to before the Covid pandemic, Public Health Scotland found the number of patients waiting for treatment “has more than doubled” from average levels seen across quarters in 2019.

While the Scottish Government announced targets to eliminate long waits in July 2022 – with ministers pledging to end waits of two years or more by September 2022, and waits of 18 months by September 2023 – Public Health Scotland found this had not been met.

Its latest waiting times report said: “Those targets due to be delivered by now have yet to be achieved but some improvement has been made.”

As the figures were published, opposition politicians warned new Health Secretary Neil Gray was facing a “perfect storm” on waiting times.

While the Scottish Government’s legally-binding treatment time guarantee states people should wait no longer than 12 weeks for in-patient or day case treatment, figures from the end of December last year showed 7,170 patients had been waiting two years or more for treatment, with 17,761 people having been waiting for 18 months.

While both of these were lower than the totals from June 2022 – shortly before the targets to eliminate long waits were announced – the latest figures did show a rise in the number of patients waiting a year or more for treatment, increasing to 37,613 by the end of 2023.

Public Health Scotland said: “It should be noted that of these long waits, 1,446 relate to patients being on the waiting list for more than three years.”

Other figures showed that at the end of December 2023 there were 525,180 patients on the list for an outpatient appointment.

This was down by 1% (5,298) from the end of September – making it the first quarterly decrease for two years.

Public Health Scotland added: “The total waiting list size is 10.3% higher than at the end of 2022 and has increased more than two-fold (268,755) since March 31 2020, after the onset of the pandemic.”

Meanwhile, at the end of December there were 144,234 Scots waiting for one of eight key diagnostic tests.

This was down by 5% (7,417) from the end of September 2023 and was the lowest figure since the last three months of 2021.

Public Health Scotland said the number waiting for diagnostic tests “remains higher than prior to when the Covid-19 pandemic began to significantly impact service provision”, with the current total being almost two-thirds (63%) higher than it was at the end of February 2020.

Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: “Neil Gray may be mere weeks into his new job but it is clear that he has inherited a perfect storm from his incompetent predecessors.

“SNP mismanagement of our NHS has led to spiralling waits, rising inpatient waiting times and people languishing in pain and in danger in A&E departments.

“SNP ministers have repeatedly promised patients and staff that they have a plan to bring down waiting lists, but all they deliver is one broken promise after another.”

Meanwhile, with more than one in seven Scots on an NHS waiting list, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton claimed the data showed that “voting SNP is bad for your health”.

Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “Far too many people are still waiting for vital scans, critical tests and life-saving treatment. It is a bleak reality facing patients across Scotland.

“The blame for this lies solely at the door of the SNP and their mismanagement of the health system. They have failed to give our hard-working NHS staff the beds, safe staffing and resources they desperately need.”

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