Treatment time guarantee ‘giving false hope’, warn Lib Dems

Written by Tom Freeman on 16 May 2019 in News

Jeane Freeman apologises to patients waiting too long, and tells health boards they must be given “realistic timescale” for their treatment 

Waiting room - credit Coetzee

Scotland’s legally binding NHS treatment time guarantee is broken so frequently it is giving people “false hope”, the Liberal Democrats have warned. 

In a debate called by party health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton, the party called for patients to be better informed of the timescale of their treatment. 

Health secretary Jeane Freeman agreed that long waits were “unacceptable” and pledged she was working on improving the situation.  

“I know only too well the impact that that has on the physical and mental health of the patient, and on their families,” she said. 

“However, knowing that is not enough; people quite rightly expect us to do something to change it.  

“My determination to do just that is exactly why I published the waiting times improvement plan in October last year to substantially and sustainably improve waiting times, particularly for those waiting the longest, backed by significant additional financial investment.” 

Cole-Hamilton said: “All I ask is that the Government stops sending out letters that give people false hope. It should explain to them why their treatment has been set back and apologise for the discomfort that that causes.” 

Freeman said health boards had committed to do exactly that to her predecessor Shona Robison. 

“While we increase capacity in the NHS to deliver on that plan, for those people who have to wait longer than 12 weeks, health boards need to ensure that each and every person is given a realistic timeline from the very beginning of their journey and kept up to date with any changes that affect that timeline,” she said. 

Conservative Miles Briggs called for the Scottish Government to increase spending on the NHS, while Labour's Monica Lennon welcomed Freeman's apology, calling for a wider debate on "target culture" in the NHS.

Scottish Green Alison Johnstone said a letter to patients was not “an adequate response”. 

“Shorter waiting times can reduce patient anxiety, improve patients’ quality of life and improve clinical outcomes. We are all in agreement that the sooner a patient can access treatment, the better,” she said. 

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