National Health Service Waiting Lists

– in the Scottish Parliament on 14 September 2023.

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Photo of Anas Sarwar Anas Sarwar Labour

2. Last year, the then health secretary promised that no one would be waiting more than 18 months for a national health service procedure by September 2023, but the most recent figures show that there are still 17,200 people on an NHS waiting list who have already waited over 18 months for hospital procedures. That is yet another broken promise from a health secretary who has failed upwards. The result is people turning to private care. Figures that are out this week show that 40 per cent of all knee and hip replacements that are being carried out in Scotland are being self-funded by patients. Why does Humza Yousaf think that it is acceptable that almost 5,000 patients last year were forced to cover the costs of their hip or knee replacements because of his failures?

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

First of all, Anas Sarwar has every right, of course, to ask about the waiting times that our NHS is experiencing, but I say to him that, every time he asks the question, he fails to mention the biggest shock that our NHS has faced in its 75-year existence. Health services right across the United Kingdom, including in Scotland, are of course ensuring that we recover.

When it comes to the longest waits, again just to inject some facts into this exchange, I note that the number waiting over two years for a new out-patient appointment is down 59 per cent in Scotland, the number waiting over 18 months has reduced by 40.6 per cent and 34 per cent of specialties have fewer than 10 patients waiting over 52 weeks.

There is progress and there is recovery. Of course that recovery is going to take time, and what helps with it is making sure that we have NHS staffing near record levels, as it is under this Government, but also making sure that we do not lose a single day in the NHS to industrial action. I am pleased that this Scottish Government has ensured that our NHS staff remain the best paid in the entire UK.

Photo of Anas Sarwar Anas Sarwar Labour

Surely the First Minister knew about Covid when he made the promise, last year, that the waits that I mentioned would be eradicated by this time this year. The First Minister may not like it, but this is happening on his watch. In the past financial year alone, 43,000 patients were treated privately in Scotland, which is an 8 per cent increase over the previous year. A total of 4,739 hip and knee replacements were paid for privately by patients, as were 7,805 cataract surgeries, 1,980 colonoscopies, 2,055 endoscopies, 995 hernia repairs and, most shockingly of all, 1,745 rounds of chemotherapy. Healthcare free at the point of need is a founding principle of our NHS. How can the Scottish National Party have let things get so bad that patients have to find cash to pay for life-saving cancer treatment?

The First Minister:

Of course we do not want people to have to fund care out of their own pockets. We know the impact that the pandemic has had on our health service, including on those waiting lists. However, I go back to the point that Anas Sarwar made: this is being seen in health systems right across the globe, let alone across the United Kingdom, as well as happening here in Scotland.

The figures from the Private Healthcare Information Network over the first quarter of 2023 show worrying trends, of course, in relation to those who access private healthcare, but they also show that Scotland has a lower rate of take-up of private healthcare compared with England and Wales. The rate of people who are self-funding for private in-patient day care is 16 per cent higher in England. In Wales—where the Labour Party is in charge—it is 51 per cent higher. That will be cold comfort for people who have to dig deep into their own pockets to pay for healthcare, but it is not unique to Scotland.

We will continue to see that recovery, to reduce waiting lists and to make sure that our NHS staff are the best paid in the UK, so that they continue to provide what is an excellent service to patients up and down Scotland.

Photo of Anas Sarwar Anas Sarwar Labour

The number of people who go private each year is going up, and the First Minister’s answers will be no comfort to the 43,000 patients who are being forced to pay privately. One person I spoke to in Cambuslang just a few weeks ago paid £15,000 for a hip replacement because the wait was three years. That is completely and utterly unacceptable.

In the middle of a cost of living crisis, when people are struggling to pay the bills, they should not also have to worry about the cost of getting sick. However, on the SNP’s watch, 43,000 Scots are being forced to find £15,000 for a hip or knee replacement, £3,000 for cataract surgery, £3,000 for a colonoscopy or £4,000 for a hernia repair—and even cancer patients are being forced to find thousands of pounds for their chemotherapy. Those are patients in pain and heartbroken families who are trying to scrape together the cash. Some are even forced to remortgage their homes to pay for the care that they should be getting on the NHS. Why are more and more Scots being forced to pay the price for SNP incompetence and failure?

The First Minister:

We are seeing the impacts of the global pandemic, which has impacted on every single health service, including the health service here in Scotland. If Anas Sarwar wants evidence of the recovery, there is more and more activity in the NHS. In quarter 2, in-patient day care activity was at its highest since the start of the pandemic. That is not the first, nor the second, but the sixth quarterly increase in a row, with 58,813 patients being seen in Q2. More and more in-patients and day care patients are being seen.

I am pleased that Anas Sarwar mentioned the cost of living crisis, because we are taking action to tackle that. Because of our action, it is estimated that 90,000 fewer children will be in absolute or relative poverty. That is in stark contrast to Anas Sarwar’s summer of U-turns, in which he has aligned himself with cruel Tory policy after cruel Tory policy. We are unashamedly anti-poverty and unashamedly pro-growth. Anas Sarwar is unashamedly only pro-Starmer.