David Stewart


Waiting Times in the NHS


9 May 2018


Speech in the Scottish Parliament debate


This has been an excellent debate on a vital issue, and I thank members across the chamber for their insightful and knowledgeable speeches and their strongly felt views.

Waiting times are always difficult.

When a patient is suffering from an illness or an injury, any time between cause, diagnosis and treatment is unwanted, because it prolongs the pain as well as putting additional stress on the patient’s mental and physical wellbeing.

Members such as Jackie Baillie, Anas Sarwar, Ross Greer, Alex Cole-Hamilton, Edward Mountain, Kate Forbes, Neil Bibby and Michelle Ballantyne have illustrated that perfectly by citing dissatisfied constituents who felt let down by the system — a system that put in place the Patient Rights (Scotland) Act 2011 to guarantee a 12-week treatment time.

The treatment time guarantee allowed hospitals and boards to manage expectations and gave patients a known timeframe.

We must not forget that waiting times are not just simple facts and figures.

Behind every delay in an operation or a consultant’s appointment, there is often an individual who is experiencing anxiety, pain and stress.

I remember when 80-year-old Inverness writer Bette McArdle came to see me because she was told that she had to wait 11 months for a relatively simple cataract operation.

She said:

“It is vital that we octogenarians are able to lead independent lives and still contribute to society.

"And it has to be remembered that many are still caring for a partner or family member.

"Without the basic support of maintaining adequate eyesight we can rapidly become even more dependent on the NHS and care services and cost the state.”

Every statistic holds similar stories.

Although I cannot fault NHS Highland for trying to clear the backlog and reduce waiting times, it is concerning that procedures are having to be outsourced to private companies and other boards at great cost.

For the second year in a row, NHS Scotland failed to meet seven out of eight key performance targets, according to Audit Scotland’s report.

One of the key problems identified is the widespread difficulty in meeting demand and the impact that that is having on waiting times.

Front-line NHS staff work tirelessly to try to ensure that staffing issues, lack of resources and underfunding do not compromise patient care, but they do so in the face of growing pressure.

No one has to take just my word for that, because Audit Scotland said in its 2017 report:

“People are waiting longer to be seen with waiting lists for first outpatient appointment and inpatient treatment increasing by 15 per cent and 12 per cent respectively in the past year.”

The other big issue is that the life expectancy gap is increasing, with men from the most deprived areas now living on average 12.2 years less than their more affluent counterparts, and women from those areas living 8.6 years less than their more affluent counterparts.

Those from deprived areas are increasingly likely to spend more years in ill health: nine more years for men and 11.5 more years for women.

On top of that, in one key area where waiting times were missed, there are higher cancer rates among disadvantaged communities but the lowest detection rates.

Those from deprived communities are most likely to be diagnosed with breast and lung cancer at stage 4, whereas those from the least deprived areas are most likely to be diagnosed with cancer at stages 1 or 2.

With those from the most deprived areas being diagnosed later, early access to treatment is key to improving outcomes and reducing the life expectancy gap.

That disparity must be addressed as a matter of urgency.

The NHS turns 70 on 5 July and we are still having to fight to protect it.

Its founder, Nye Bevan, said that

“discontent arises from a knowledge of the possible, as contrasted with the actual.”

Debates such as this one are frustrating because we know that we can do better for the NHS, the front-line staff, the patients and the families of patients.

I ask all members to support our motion at decision time.


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