Hospital Waiting Times

– in the Scottish Parliament on 9th March 2023.

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Photo of Tess White Tess White Conservative

3. To ask the First Minister whether she will provide an update on the Scottish Government’s progress towards reducing the number of people on hospital waiting lists and ending long waits for national health service treatment. (S6F-01899)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Yes, I will. The total number of patients waiting more than 18 months for a new out-patient appointment was down by 27 per cent in a single quarter; the numbers of patients waiting for more than two years for in-patient and day cases was down by 60 per cent over six months; the number of patients who were seen in December 2022 was at the highest level since the pandemic began; and the number of patients waiting for a diagnostic test had reduced by more than 7 per cent in the most recent quarter.

Of course, that progress is down to the hard work of our front-line NHS staff to clear long waits that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. We need to go further and continue to grow capacity in our national health service, which is why we will, for example, open four new national treatment centres over the coming year.

Photo of Tess White Tess White Conservative

Figures from NHS Grampian show that two people have waited more than five and a half years for in-patient treatment. In NHS Grampian, for orthopaedic surgery alone, waiting times are 18 to 24 months, and more than 3,800 people are on the waiting list. I have a constituent on that list who is in debilitating pain, and that is impacting her physically, emotionally and financially. No meaningful progress has been made to reduce the number of people on waiting lists, as Kate Forbes has said. Our health secretary, Humza Yousaf, is focused more on the Scottish National Party’s succession plan than on the NHS recovery plan. What does the First Minister have to say to my constituent and to the thousands of other people who are suffering in pain on those waiting lists?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

What I will say to Tess White’s constituent—and to anyone who is on an NHS waiting list—is that this Government will continue to focus on investment, recruitment and reform in our NHS to get those waiting lists and times down. It is simply wrong—and the facts do not bear it out—that progress is not being made in reducing the longest waits. I have already set out the progress over recent months in reducing the longest waits for out-patient and in-patient appointments and for diagnostic tests. Is the progress that has been made yet good enough? No—it is not. The challenge in our NHS is significant, but we will continue with the investment, recruitment and reforms that are necessary to make sure that we deliver for all patients every day in our national health service.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

Earlier this week, BBC Scotland revealed that one in five people had paid for private medical care in the past 12 months. Let us be clear that those are people who are on lengthy waiting lists and who are so desperate for treatment that they are scraping together their savings to go private.

The Private Healthcare Information Network tells us that the number of private operations has increased by 72 per cent and, in 2021 alone, 40 per cent of all hip and knee replacements were done privately. Each and every one of the health secretary’s targets for ending even the longest waits—of more than two years—have been missed.

Just a few months ago, NHS board chief executives were discussing a two-tier system of healthcare in Scotland, in which some people would pay for their care. Does the First Minister now accept that, in reality, under this SNP Government, the two-tier system is already here?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

No, I do not accept that, but I do consider it unacceptable that any patient has to pay privately for treatment that they should—and want to—get on the national health service. That is why we continue to focus, in the ways that I have been speaking about, on bringing down waiting times, and we will continue with that focus. I know that it will be a priority for whoever succeeds me as First Minister, as it has been a priority for me every day in this job.

The targets have not been missed. The targets on reducing long waits are being met, and we need to and will go further. I know that this will get howls of objection from the Labour benches, but Jackie Baillie is trying to suggest that the challenges in our national health service are uniquely down to the fact that Scotland has an SNP Government, so let me counter that.

Jackie Baillie quoted the Private Healthcare Information Network figures, so she will not mind my also quoting the Private Healthcare Information Network figures for self-funded private care. In the second quarter of 2022, which are the most recent figures, in Wales, where Labour is in office—[


.] Jackie Baillie wants to do the comparisons when it suits her.

In Wales, where Labour is in office, the number of people getting self-funded private care was, according to the Private Healthcare Information Network, 27 per cent higher than it was in Scotland. Not only that, for those opting to pay for private healthcare, the rate of increase in Wales was 21 percentage points higher than it was in Scotland.

I am responsible—this Government is responsible—for health in Scotland, but for those who want to suggest that the challenges in our national health service are uniquely down to an SNP Government, if they are Tories, they need to look at performance in England, and if they are Labour, they really need to look at performance in Wales.