Waiting time targets in Scotland 'need urgent review'

RCN says focus is on processes not outcomes, as NHS Lothian board warns it may breach its targets

Nursing leaders have warned that NHS waiting time targets in Scotland need an urgent overhaul, following an announcement that Lothian's health board may breach its targets.

NHS Lothian raised concerns over pressure in cancer services and primary care, as its board struggles to plug a £77 million funding gap due to a costly private finance initiative (PFI) contract for the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, as well as the demands of an ageing population.

The health board lacks the capacity or staff to meet the Scottish government’s 12-week treatment time guarantee, it said.

According to the board, thousands of people waiting for elective surgeries will no longer be sent to private hospitals to reduce waiting times, which previously cost £12 million a year.

RCN Scotland Director, Theresa Fyffe, said: ‘NHS targets need an urgent overhaul. The targets in place at the moment focus on the wrong things – looking at processes and not patient outcomes.

‘Nurses don't want to go back to a time when patients waited months for treatment, but the RCN does believe that Scotland needs to think again about how it measures success in health.’

NHS Lothian deputy finance director Craig Marriot said: ‘We are developing plans to reinvest money previously spent in the independent sector into NHS Lothian and increase capacity to bring these procedures in house.

'We know this will have an impact on patient waiting times and we will continue to work hard to provide swift, effective patient-centred care in line with other boards in Scotland.’

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: ‘NHS Boards have consistently received above-inflation increases in front line spending and need to use those resources to deliver against waiting time targets.

‘This year, NHS Lothian has received a 6.3% increase to its budget – taking the total to £1.3 billion.

‘While health boards across Scotland continue to deliver some of the lowest waiting times on record, we have been clear that they must continue to get the right structures in place to ensure everyone is seen within the target time.’