A young constituent of mine in Paisley who is suffering from a severe ear infection has had their operation, which was planned for later this month, cancelled due to the closure of the central decontamination unit in Glasgow. She now faces an extra month of agony when she should be studying for her prelims. Another Renfrewshire woman has been told that she will have to wait for an ear, nose and throat appointment as an out-patient for 52 weeks, when the target is 12 weeks. The response to a freedom of information request that has been passed to me shows that NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde has only once managed to see more than 70 per cent of patients within 12 weeks. In August, the target was met in only 41 per cent of cases.
Does the health secretary believe that any of that is acceptable? What will she do to ensure that patients in Renfrewshire and the west of Scotland get the treatment that they are entitled to for ear, nose and throat conditions?
As Mr Bibby will know, and as I have put on record many times in the chamber and elsewhere, I find such long waits completely unacceptable and I am very sorry personally for the distress that they cause his constituents and any other patient who is waiting longer than they should for the treatment that they require. The waiting times improvement plan, which is backed by significant additional resources, is designed to reduce, with effective targeted action, as we touched on earlier, those long waits and to tackle the areas in which we have a particular challenge in terms of physical capacity or workforce capacity, where we may need to do additional work to secure the specialisms that we need.
When I introduced the plan, I undertook to report to Parliament the progress on the trajectories that the plan sets out, and I will continue to do so. I am very happy to keep individual members up to date on the relevant propositions that come from boards in their area and which are approved by the operating board that I mentioned. I approve specific actions that are designed to produce specific results, that are backed by a particular amount of money and which are monitored as I have described.
Last week, I was contacted by Anne Hughes, a 75-year-old lady who was unable to visit the out-of-hours general practice service at Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth hospital due to staff shortages on 1 December. [
.] I am trying to rush now.
Instead of being able to access the accident and emergency services at the hospital, Anne was told that she had to go to the Royal Alexandra hospital in Paisley or to the new Victoria hospital, so she did not arrive home until 10 hours after first seeking medical assistance. Can the cabinet secretary confirm that action is being taken to guarantee that out-of-hours care is available at all times to patients in our country’s largest health board?
I am grateful to Annie Wells for her question. As it happens, before this session I had a longer discussion with Professor Lewis Ritchie, who has undertaken work on out-of-hours services. He updated me on where we are. Our out-of-hours services are undoubtedly displaying some degree of fragility, so the action that we are taking, and planning to take, is needed in order to strengthen the services. That action is part of the whole-system approach and will link strongly to accident and emergency departments and to the integration of health and social care. We are trying to drive forward that whole-system approach very quickly.
There has been a significant increase—more than what is expected at this time of year—in the number of people who are attending A and E departments across the country. That might be related to the availability of out-of-hours services, or it might simply be because of the nature of the weather. We are working to investigate and understand who the additional attendees are and what can be done.
I appreciate the point that Annie Wells makes. The individual who contacted her is absolutely right that the length of time that it took to be treated and the additional travel are completely unacceptable. I assure her that we are looking in detail at what we can do, and I would be happy to discuss with Annie Wells the specific actions that we are taking on out-of-hours services.