Labour’s Health spokesperson Jackie Baillie is refusing to apologise to NHS staff after accusing them of deliberately falsifying waiting list figures.
The row centres around accusations made by the Labour MSP over patient waiting lists published by Tayside Health Board in which she claimed that the board had been “dragged into the scandal” of record falsification.
It follows revelations involving another health board, NHS Lothian, where it emerged records of patient waiting lists had been amended after some patients had been removed from the list when they declined to travel to England for treatment.
Following an investigation into NHS Lothian, the Labour MSP claimed that the problem was not confined to just one health board but was part of a “national trend” that may have been replicated across Scotland.
“This weekend, NHS Tayside was also dragged into the scandal.” she recently wrote in her blog.
The accusation was centred on a waiting list published by NHS Tayside that was later amended, reducing the overall total from the original figure of 21,032 patients to 18,815.
The reduction prompted a press release from the Scottish Labour party that was critical of the board and led to an article in the Sunday Times newspaper reporting that; NHS Tayside had been challenged over its waiting times figures, being “repeatedly asked by ISD to explain why substantial numbers of patients were removed from waiting lists”
However Labour’s claims have now been challenged by the board who point out that the alteration of the list is normal and accepted practice that follows already laid down procedure.
In a letter to Ms Baillie, Sandy Watson OBE, who is the Chairman of Tayside NHS Board, explained that the original data included people not covered by Scottish Government guarantees and that no-one had been removed from the waiting list.
Mr Watson explained that the list of 21,032 patients included those not relevant to the waiting list, but that the system did not allow the stripping out of these patients from the original list until it had been submitted to the Information Services Division (ISD).
Only then, explained Mr Watson, were those patients not related to consultant-led clinics, the type covered by the waiting times guarantee, removed from the list.
“As the waiting times guarantee only applies to consultant-led clinics, the latter, revised figure is an accurate measurement of the number of patients actually waiting for a consultant-led outpatient clinic in Tayside.” wrote Mr Watson.
In his letter, Mr Watson contrasted the situation at NHS Lothian with that of NHS Tayside: “You will be acutely aware that the issue at NHS Lothian focused on the allocation of social unavailability codes to patients. NHS Tayside’s allocation of social unavailability codes is significantly less than the Scottish average.
I would like to underline the fact that NHS Tayside is very open about waiting times activity, publishing a report every three months and discussing this in public at the Tayside NHS Board meeting.”
In the Holyrood chamber this morning [Thursday] the Labour MSP was challenged to apologise to staff at NHS Tayside and to withdraw the remarks published on her website.
Scottish Government Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon called on the Labour MSP to provide evidence of malpractice involving other health boards and insisted they will be investigated.
However a defiant Ms Baillie refused to back down and instead claimed that Ms Sturgeon, “continued to deny that there was a problem beyond NHS Lothian”.
She repeated her claim that the practice was not confined to NHS Lothian and added: “I don’t believe, unfortunately, that the deliberate distortion of waiting times or the culture of bullying and intimidation is confined to NHS Lothian alone.”
SNP MSP Joe Fitzpatrick called Ms Baillie’s remarks “disrespectful” and accused her of blundering by jumping to the wrong conclusion.
Mr Fitzpatrick, SNP MSP for Dundee City West, said:
“It is completely disrespectful to the hard-working staff of NHS Tayside to accuse them of being embroiled in a waiting list “scandal” – when this is simply not true.
“In fact Ms Baillie continues to plaster these lies on her website after receiving a letter from NHS Tayside’s chairman pointing out where she got the figures wrong.
“This is yet another blunder from Ms Baillie who jumped to the wrong conclusions, hasn’t apologised and continues to leave her comments online.
“Instead of issuing negative and misleading remarks, Ms Baillie and the rest of the Labour Party should be praising the progress made by Scotland’s NHS workforce in their commitment to reducing waiting times.
“Up to 35,000 patients were left to languish on hidden waiting lists when Labour was in government – until the SNP abolished them.
“Our NHS staff work tirelessly and the healthcare associated infection figures published this week reflect this hard work.”
This isn’t the first time the outspoken Labour MSP has been involved in making false claims. In January this year, a press release issued by Ms Baillie claimed that official figures showed that Scotland was the “superbug capital of Europe”.
According to the Labour MSP, research from the Scottish Parliament Information Centre showed that Scotland has the highest rate of bugs in Europe, hitting 9.5 per cent.
In the press release Ms Baillie was quoted saying: “Being the superbug capital of Europe is an accolade no country wants.
“These figures show that, despite recent progress, the SNP government still has a long way to go in the battle against healthcare-associated infections.
“Sadly, almost everybody knows someone who has contracted a healthcare-associated infection, like C.diff or MRSA.
“We must aspire to deliver the cleanest hospitals and the lowest levels of hospital-acquired infections in the whole of Europe – not the highest.”
However, it emerged that the data was in fact collated in 2005/6, at a time when Labour were in power at Holyrood. It also emerged that at the time of the press release, superbug rates in Scotland were in fact at an all-time low.
Despite the truth being known for fully two days prior to the publication of the press release, Ms Baillie featured prominently on BBC Radio Scotland broadcasts, the claims were also published by the Scotsman newspaper.
To date, Ms Baillie has refused to acknowledge her claims were false.