By a Newsnet reporter
Newly published figures have revealed a record low in the numbers of people waiting to be discharged from Scottish hospitals and continued progress on national waiting times targets.
Welcoming the new figures, Health Minister Nicola Sturgeon praised NHS staff for their “tremendous effort” in meeting and surpassing the targets set by Scottish Government.
The SNP said the figures demonstrate that action by the Scottish Government to protect the quality of frontline services – despite Westminster’s savage public spending cuts – is having the right effect.
Figures released on Tuesday show that the Scottish Government’s waiting time target of 90 per cent of patients completing their referral-to-treatment journey within 18 weeks has been exceeded, with 92 per cent of patients being treated within that timescale during December last year.
In addition, the latest delayed discharge figures show that the number of people awaiting hospital discharge is at a record low, with just 54 patients waiting more than six weeks to leave hospital in January 2012. In 2002, the figure was over 2,000.
The figures also show that at the end of December, 97.1% of patients had to wait less than 12 weeks for their first outpatient appointment, with 93.3% waiting less than nine weeks for inpatient or day case treatment in hospital. Meanwhile, 97.2% of patients waited less than six weeks to have one of eight key diagnostic tests carried out.
Ms Sturgeon said: “We know what patients want – quick access to treatment, delivered as locally as possible. That is why I am pleased to confirm that we have delivered on our target of ensuring patients are treated in 18 weeks or less.”
She added: “There has been a tremendous effort across the health service to get us to this point and I would like to congratulate everyone involved. This radical target has required the NHS to completely change internal systems so links are in place for each patient to be seen in the right care setting at the right time.
“Now, rather than having individual waits for consultations and tests, this target will focus on the patient’s whole journey from GP referral to treatment. This is the best way to ensure patients get the very best quality of care.”
The Health Secretary added that it was “important to remember just how much progress has been made” on hospital waiting times. She said: “In 2007 over 29,000 people were stuck on ‘hidden waiting lists’, not getting the treatment they needed, and the maximum wait to get an appointment was six months.
“Meeting our 18 weeks referral to treatment target demonstrates what the NHS can achieve by protecting the founding principles of the National Health Service and Scottish patients are reaping the benefits.”
Fiona McLeod, SNP MSP for Strathkelvin and Bearsden and a member of the Scottish Parliament’s Health Committee, welcomed the news, saying:
“The SNP government has made it a priority to continuously improve patient access to health and care services. Waiting times and delayed discharges have got significantly better during the SNP’s time in government and today’s figures show that the patient experience in both those respects is continuing to improve.
“No one is any doubt that Scotland’s health and social care services are facing financial pressure as a result of the Westminster government’s savage cuts to Scotland’s budget, but the Scottish government has acted to protect frontline service quality and patient access, protecting NHS funding and boosting to £80 million the Change Fund to support joint working between the NHS and local authorities. Today’s figures show that these measures are paying off for Scottish patients.
“We shouldn’t be complacent, of course, and there is always room for more improvement, but NHS and social work staff should be commended for their achievements in ensuring that Scottish patients continue to receive a service that is not only high quality, but is also continuing to get better.”