The decision to cancel a patient’s operation is never taken lightly. All boards, including Grampian, work very hard to keep cancellations to a minimum, and we continue to work with them to see sustained improvements.
It is important to remember that cancellations are a small percentage of the overall number of planned operations taking place. The latest cancelled operations figures, which are for August, show that in Grampian 1,947 operations were carried out and 83 operations were cancelled due to capacity or non-clinical reasons.
We have seen 3,471 fewer planned operations, the second-worst waiting times record of any national health service board, hundreds of cancelled operations for non-clinical reasons, and, most recently, specialist veterans services pulling down their shutters due to a lack of funding support from NHS Grampian. I am not the only Grampian MSP raising the issue. Does the cabinet secretary not believe that now is the time to fund NHS Grampian properly? It receives only 89 per cent of the average funding per head of population. The problem is not the amount of money that the cabinet secretary has mentioned; the share of the budget needs to be addressed.
As I said in my answer to Liam Kerr, NHS Scotland resource allocation committee funding has been an important element of the funding that Grampian has received in recognition of the challenges that it faces. Since 2015-16, it has received additional funding of £47 million for the specific purpose of accelerating funding parity in line with the NRAC formula.
As I said, a very small number of operations are cancelled due to capacity or non-clinical reasons—for August, that amounted to 2.8 per cent. A number of other operations are cancelled for clinical reasons or because patients are not fit to have the procedure, or are cancelled by patients. The vast majority of operations go ahead.
Mike Rumbles mentioned the veterans services, which have been important. We have supported boards to continue to provide veterans services in a very difficult backdrop, because they were previously funded through London interbank offered rate—LIBOR—money; as Mike Rumbles will be aware, that money has been withdrawn. We have tried to help boards to sustain those services and have offered them a partnership arrangement for funding. It is up to those boards to either accept or not accept; most have, but a small number have not decided to go down that route. That is a local decision for those boards.
Gillian Martin touches on an important point, because a key issue for NHS Grampian is its ability to recruit and retain staff, in particular theatre staff for Aberdeen royal infirmary. The board is taking a number of important measures to plan and sustain its theatre workforce; for example, it is one of a number of boards that have piloted a new approach to developing the theatre workforce. It is working in partnership with the north-east of Scotland colleges to develop and deliver a professional development award in perioperative practice, which has enabled existing theatre staff to further develop their skills and experience, ensuring a clearer career pathway and helping to attract and retain theatre staff.
A lot of work is going on; the board has entirely restructured the way in which it organises its theatres in the Grampian area and I am confident that, over time, it will be able to build up its capacity and to sustain and provide quicker access to procedures than it currently provides.
We have heard a lot of information from the cabinet secretary about how many extra resources are going in and about the partnership arrangements with Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh. We have not heard how long this will go on for; it has gone on for several years so far. Will she give the north-east of Scotland a promise on when things will normalise, when there will not be cancellations and when waiting lists will come down to what could be considered a normal level?
The arrangements for cardiac patients are new and have not gone on for years. The board had to come to those arrangements because of the particular issues of not being able to recruit to those specialties within the Grampian area. It is important to make sure that cardiac patients in the Grampian area in the north of Scotland get access to the cardiac specialists that they need, so that is why the board has come up with the important arrangements with Glasgow, Edinburgh and Newcastle—although it has not had to utilise any capacity in Newcastle so far.
The most important people in all this are the cardiac patients. I know that they would want to get their treatment as quickly as possible, and, if that means travelling outwith Grampian, I am sure that that is what they are prepared to do.
Meanwhile, NHS Grampian is working very hard to try to recruit those specialists to Grampian, so that it can get its service back up and running to be able to meet the demands from the Grampian area.