More than three quarters of a million Scots are waiting for an outpatient appointment, key tests, or hospital treatment – with new figures showing a “staggering” 776,341 people on NHS waiting lists.
Of the 616,396 patients who are waiting either for an outpatient appointment or for inpatient or day case treatment, there are 73,284 who have been waiting a year or more.
New figures, released by Public Health Scotland (PHS), also showed that at the end of September there were 159,945 people waiting for diagnostic tests.
PHS’s figures also showed a fall in the numbers of patients experiencing the longest waits of two years or more for either hospital treatment or to be seen as an outpatient.
This was welcomed by Health Secretary Humza Yousaf – but he accepted that the “picture continues to be extremely tough, particularly as we head into winter”.
His comments came as official figures showed that as of September 30 this year there were 474,600 people waiting to be seen as outpatients – a total 54% larger than the quarterly average in 2019, prior to the coronavirus pandemic.
The national standard in Scotland states 95% of new outpatients should wait no longer than 12 weeks from referral to being seen.
But statistics for July to September 2022 showed 96,097 patients – almost a third (32%) of the total number of who were seen – had waited more than 12 weeks for their appointment.
By the end of September, 37,947 people had been waiting a year or more for an outpatient appointment – with this up from 35,697 at the end of June 2022.
However, the number waiting two years or more fell to 2,114 – with this down by 20% from June’s total.
At the same time, data showed that at the end of September 141,796 patients were waiting to be admitted for either inpatient or day care treatment – an increase of 1,951 from the end of June.
The number on the waiting list for hospital treatment was up by 35% from September 2021, and was 54% higher than the average total recorded at the end of the four quarters in 2019.
The Scottish Government’s legally binding Treatment Time Guarantee (TTG) states that eligible patients should wait no longer than 12 weeks for treatment as an inpatient or day case.
But the data showed that 44% of those admitted for treatment over the period July to September had waited longer than this – meaning the guarantee was missed for 23,356 patients in those three months.
A quarter of those on the list for inpatient or day case treatment have been waiting a year or more, the figures showed, with 35,337 patients in this position at the end of September, up from the 34,999 recorded at the end of June.
Meanwhile, 7,612 patients had been waiting two years or more by the end of September – with this total down by 22% from the previous quarter.
Health Secretary Humza Yousaf welcomed the reduction in patients waiting 104 weeks or more, describing this as “real progress on our recovery journey” from coronavirus.
Mr Yousaf said: “We recognise the impact long waiting times have on a patient, from both a clinical and mental health perspective, which is why we announced ambitious waiting times targets to address the backlog of planned care.
“These figures show NHS boards and their staff are working extremely hard, during challenging times, in order to meet these targets and support patients. I cannot thank them enough.
“We have already seen a huge effort to clear the backlog caused by the pandemic and we have seen two-year outpatient waits in most specialities cleared.
“This is real progress on our recovery journey but we must stay focused on these efforts.”
He continued: “I recognise the picture continues to be extremely tough, particularly as we head into winter, and that’s why our £600 million winter plan will see us recruit 1,000 new NHS staff and our £50 million Unscheduled Care Collaborative looks to reduce pressure on A&E through scheduled urgent appointments, Hospital at Home and directing people to more appropriate care.”
But Scottish Conservative health spokesman Dr Sandesh Gulhane branded the “shameful figures” a “ticking timebomb” – as he continued to call for Mr Yousaf to be axed as Health Secretary.
Dr Gulhane said: “It’s staggering that the number of patients waiting in NHS backlogs has now reached over three quarters of a million.
“Any delay to getting a diagnosis or starting treatment can lead to a patient going downhill rapidly, at the very least prolonging their suffering – and at worse leading to avoidable deaths.
“Tackling Scotland’s huge treatment backlogs should have been the cornerstone of our Covid recovery strategy, but Humza Yousaf’s flimsy recovery plan has only seen backlogs soar since the pandemic.”
The Tory continued: “Humza Yousaf has proved himself completely unfit for the task of saving our NHS – and his promises to get things back on track over a period of years will be cold comfort to the many patients facing unacceptable waits for treatment or tests right now.
“Nicola Sturgeon must urgently intervene and sack her failed Health Secretary before more patients suffer as a result of his incompetence.”
Scottish Labour health spokesperson Jackie Baillie also called for Mr Youasf to go, as she said: “The facts are clear for all to see – a shocking one in seven Scots are languishing on NHS waiting lists and thousands are waiting years to be seen.
“These are not mere figures – these are real people who are being left in pain, worry and anxiety by the SNP’s incompetence.
“The soaring number of patients on waiting lists risks Scots losing their lives before receiving vital treatment and will force more and more into the arms of private medicine.”
Ms Baillie added: “Make no mistake, Humza Yousaf’s incompetence is risking lives and creating the two-tier health service.
“Hundreds of thousands of lives and the very survival of our NHS is on the line – it’s time that the worst Health Secretary since devolution got the sack.”
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