Prime Minister (Meetings)

First Minister's Question Time — Scottish Executive – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:30 pm on 7 February 2002.

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Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party 2:30, 7 February 2002

To ask the First Minister what issues he intends to raise when he next meets the Prime Minister. (S1F-01627)

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I hope to meet the Prime Minister in the near future and to discuss the delivery of first-class public services.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Perhaps the First Minister will address with the Prime Minister the point that I will raise with him now. Can the First Minister tell me how many patients in Scotland have been removed from waiting lists not because they have been treated but because they have been reclassified?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I do not have the precise answer to that question, which is no doubt one of Mr Swinney's regular trick questions about the number of people on our waiting lists. I will be delighted to hear the next part of the question and then to address the issue.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

It is not so much my tricks as the First Minister's tricks that I am worried about. When we exposed the previous scandal, of closed waiting lists, the First Minister kindly set up an inquiry. On the very day when he ordered that inquiry, West Lothian Healthcare NHS Trust was meeting to discuss the scandal of reclassified waiting lists.

The minutes of that meeting, which took place on 19 December 2001, say:

"The overall total on the waiting list has decreased. Gastroenterology has been reclassified so this had helped" to reduce waiting lists. Indeed it did help. In September 2001, there were 290 patients on the waiting list, in October there were 245 and, by December, the waiting list had been struck from the public record.

Will the First Minister guarantee that all the patients in Scotland who have been removed from the official waiting list because of reclassification have been treated, or is the Executive fiddling the figures?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

As ever, I will be happy to ensure that Mr Swinney has a precise answer about that particular set of circumstances that cannot in any way be distorted. It is right and proper that, in situations where endoscopy procedures are used, reclassification can take place. That ensures that people achieve a better service, not a worse one, from the national health service.

As such matters proceed, the health service is dealing with a number of different patients and procedures in different ways. It is not always the case that the fact that people are not being operated on in certain places means that individuals are not receiving the treatment that they deserve. On a number of occasions recently—including a few weeks ago in the chamber—I have referred to the example of patients in Falkirk who are now receiving treatment at local clinics on a lower number of visits. That treatment would previously have required a higher number of visits, but those visits would have been in Glasgow. That might seem on paper to be fewer operations, fewer procedures and less treatment, but it is actually better treatment and is more effective and efficient for the patients concerned as well as for the national health service.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

The problem is that if people are still waiting for treatment, they should be on a waiting list; they should not be reclassified off that waiting list. That is not just happening in West Lothian. One of my colleagues received the following comments from a consultant in Aberdeen, who—

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Mr Swinney, could you put questions to the First Minister?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I certainly will do.

A consultant in Aberdeen has highlighted the fact that

"There has been a flurry of managerial activity here transferring patients from Daycase waiting lists to outpatient lists, apparently following a ... central directive."

He speculates:

"one wonders if the waiting lists are going to show a sudden miraculous decline."

As we have exposed the scandal of closed waiting lists, and now the scandal of reclassified waiting lists, does all the evidence not point to the fact that, when it comes to health, the Executive does not muddle, it just fiddles?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

No. When it comes to health, the Executive puts patients first and does not play politics with the statistics or individuals concerned. If there is a health board or trust anywhere in Scotland that is not following the right procedures, as I have said before in the chamber, we will investigate that.

I am certain that, in most—if not all—of the cases that Mr Swinney and others quote in the chamber, the classification of particular procedures will have been cleared properly with the proper statistics section at a national level. If that means that people who would in the past have been in-patients are now out-patients and are therefore on a different list somewhere else, it does not mean that they are not receiving treatment from the health service. It does not mean that they are not on the appropriate list; it means that health services in Scotland are being organised— [Interruption.]

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

Thank you, Presiding Officer. It is sometimes hard for SNP members to hear the truth, but on this occasion they will.

The health service in Scotland is being modernised. We use new technologies and new procedures and we ensure that people are treated faster, more effectively and more locally. That is the case in community after community all over Scotland. If that means that people are on different waiting lists—the right waiting lists for them—we should not only defend but welcome that, because we have better health services as a result.