Sick kids forced to wait 55 weeks for hospital appointment in Aberdeen

Some average waits at the children's hospital exceeded target times by many weeks.

The NHS Grampian departments with the longest average patient waiting times have been revealed.

Among the hardest hit in the six weeks between March 26 up to May 7 was the outpatient wait for routine paediatric rheumatology patients at the Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital (RACH), with 75% of patients waiting an average of 55 weeks to be seen at clinic following a GP referral.

The figure puts the health board 43 weeks over the Scottish Governement’s waiting time target of 12 weeks.

The figures, seen by the Evening Express, have led to calls from opposition politicians for the Government to step in and help the health board.

The majority of those awaiting a routine paediatric plastic surgery appointment face a 47-week wait, with urgent paediatric orthoptics patients hit with a 31-week wait.

Elsewhere in the North-east health board, three quarters of routine Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) patients at Dr Gray’s hospital in Elgin had an average wait of 48 weeks for an appointment, with Woodend General Hospital reporting waits of more than 40 weeks for routine patients in several areas of orthopaedics.

Those referred to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary (ARI) for a cataract appointment had an average of 37 weeks to wait, with the majority of patients facing a 48-week wait for a physiotherapy appointment.

The information also shows the departments where targets are being met at the health board. This includes, referrals to parts of cardiology, oncology, general medicine, general surgery, stroke, and ultrasound, the majority of which sit several weeks below the government’s 12-week target between referral and appointment.

In terms of inpatients – those admitted for a procedure or operation – routine neurology patients at the city’s children’s hospital faced the longest wait, with three quarters waiting an average of 32 weeks. Routine orthopaedic and ophthalmology patients to ARI and ophthalmology patients to Dr Gray’s had an average of 38 weeks between agreeing a procedure and the date of it taking place.

Urgent procedures over the six-week period were all carried out within the target waiting time, including an average wait of nine weeks for ENT, and eight weeks for gynaecology at ARI.

It follows the news NHS Grampian is to implement a new classification system for elective surgery patients in an effort to improve waiting times.

The new process will mean adult elective surgery patients will be seen according to clinical need, with certain patients deemed as “able to wait longer” than others.

The health board has said it cannot guarantee patients will be given surgery within 12 weeks of diagnosis – unless it is an urgent case.

They hope this “pragmatic” approach will be short term.

A spokeswoman for the health board said: “NHS Grampian is currently unable to see all elective surgical patients within the 12 weeks timescale set out by the Scottish Government.

“In light of this situation our first priority is to ensure the most urgent patients get treated promptly.

“Therefore we are in the process of implementing an elective classification system to ensure those patients waiting longer are those clinically most able to do so.

“The classification is clinically led and covers all adult surgical services.

“We realise this will be disappointing news for those patients classed as able to wait longer. We remain committed to all Scottish Government waiting times standards.

“This is a pragmatic interim solution to maintain safety while current waits are longer than we would like.”

In a move introduced by Nicola Sturgeon in 2011, health boards are legally compelled to comply with the 12-week treatment time guarantee, but face no sanctions for falling short.

Politicians have backed the classification move but called for the Scottish Government to step in and help the health board.

Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald, pictured, said: “I think at a clinical level NHS Grampian is completely right to make this move. But from a wider perspective they are only being forced to do this because they don’t have the resources to deliver all the operations they need to.

“The Scottish Government needs to step up to the plate and provide NHS Grampian with what it needs to be able to recruit the staff it needs.”

Alexander Burnett, Scottish Conservative MSP for Aberdeenshire West, said: “On the day that the SNP marks ten years in power in Scotland, this is a shocking indictment of its failure to address problems in our health service. I know from the numerous examples in my own constituency that very often the wait for an operation is significantly longer than 12 weeks.

“Management at NHS Grampian have taken a step which they clearly think is in the best interests of patient care, but this again raises serious questions about the resources the health board has at its disposal.”

Health Secretary Shona Robison, pictured below, said staff at NHS Grampian had increased since her party came to power.

She said: “We have been clear with all health boards that patients who are waiting for treatment such as elective surgery are seen as quickly as possible. It is important that patients with the highest clinical priority, such as cancer patients, are seen quickly.

“Under this Government, the number of staff in NHS Grampian have increased by 8.2%, to more than 12,100 Whole Time Equivalent. We expect NHS boards to have the correct staff and facilities in place to ensure high quality patient care and we work closely with boards to support their efforts in staff recruitment. NHS Grampian is working to address the issues.”