Surge in demand for diagnostic tests leads to delays

Written by Tom Freeman on 29 August 2017 in News

Increase in number of patients waiting over six-weeks for vital testing and screening as demand for health services grows

The number of patients waiting more than six weeks for important medical testing has tripled to 13,566 as increasing demand puts strain on the NHS in Scotland.

The figure for the same month last year was 4,750.

The Scottish Government's standard is that patients should wait no longer than six weeks for one of eight diagnostic tests, including MRI scans and other cancer tests.


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Demand has also grown. The overall number of those waiting for the eight key diagnostic tests & investigations has risen from 60,762 in June 2016 to 79,529 in June 2017.

Today’s official figures also reveal the percentage of patients getting tested within the six week target has fallen from 92.2 to 82.9 for the same period.

In Ayrshire and Arran only 62.4 per cent of patients had their diagnostic tests within six weeks, while in Lothian the figure was 73.5 per cent.

Gregor McNie, Cancer Research UK’s senior public affairs manager for Scotland, said the figures showed Scotland’s NHS was struggling with demand.

“The rapidly diminishing performance in endoscopy services is of particular concern. This must be addressed as a priority,” he said.

“Patients must be diagnosed and treated early if they are to have the best chance of surviving cancer. Waiting so long for tests adds to the anxiety anyone who has possible cancer symptoms feels.”

Meanwhile, the number of patients being referred for treatment within an 18-week period has also fallen to 84.8 per cent.

The Scottish Government has announced a new programme to reduce waiting times.

The Elective Access Collaborative Programme will be led by Professor Derek Bell of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh and the chief executive of NHS Fife, Paul Hawkins.

Health Secretary Shona Robison said the programme would build on a £50m investment for waiting times announced in May.

“This partnership working between government, the NHS and the profession has already achieved some excellent results in unscheduled care – and we are keen to replicate this successful approach,” she said.

“We are at a crucial transition stage in our reforms of the health service – the much called-for shift in resources to primary, community and social care services is beginning to take effect, but this will take time to deliver better and more appropriate alternatives to acute care.

“However it is still crucial that patients are seen in a timely manner and all boards have been asked to produce recovery plans for their elective care services. After which we expect the reforms to elective care to deliver a more sustainable and effective service to patients.”

But Scottish Labour’s health spokesman Anas Sarwar called for Robison to be moved from health in any reshuffle by Nicola Sturgeon.

“This government gave patients a legal right to expect treatment within 12 weeks. That law has now been broken tens of thousands of times,” he said.

“A 10 per cent fall in key diagnostics tests is also unacceptable. These standards are there to ensure that people get the benefit of early detection and have the best opportunity of a full recovery, but more and more patients are having to wait longer than the six weeks.

“After a decade of SNP mismanagement staff are overworked, undervalued, under resourced and underpaid. Shona Robison is clearly out of her depth and out of ideas.

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