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NHS Grampian chiefs spend nearly £11m sending patients private

Aberdeen Royal Infirmary
Aberdeen Royal Infirmary

NHS Grampian has spent nearly £11million sending thousands of patients to private hospitals to try to meet a flagship Scottish Government policy on treatment waiting times.

About 3,160 people in the north-east have been referred for operations outwith the health service since the Treatment Time Guarantee was introduced.

High numbers have been forced to travel to Edinburgh or Glasgow as health chiefs battle to meet targets – with private companies raking in £10.8million from the board over the past three years.

Last night, critics said the money should have been spent on improving health facilities in the north east.

NHS Grampian said it was “not always possible” to meet the terms of the waiting times policy, which legally requires boards to ensure patients do not wait more than 12 weeks for treatment from the day it is agreed to the day it starts.

The most common referrals are for hip and knee replacements, cataracts, hernias and gall bladder removal.

North-east Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald said: “More than £10million spent on private hospital treatment in Glasgow and Edinburgh is £10million not spent on NHS care here in Grampian, and a symptom of a health service under stress.

“The cure for this stress is obvious – the Scottish Government needs to give NHS Grampian the level of funding it is entitled to.

“The government’s own funding formula says that NHS Grampian is under-funded to the tune of £17million this year alone.

“The lack of adequate health care facilities in Grampian is a direct result of deliberate, cumulative under-funding since the NHS Scotland resource allocation committee made its recommendations in 2007.

“Patients would much prefer to be treated close to home by the NHS than to have to travel to the central belt, no matter the quality of care in private hospitals.

“It is up to the Scottish Government to provide the resources to let people be treated close to home.”

Figures obtained under freedom of information legislation show that just 64 NHS Grampian patients were sent for private treatment in 2011-12 – before the waiting time target was introduced.

This rose to 884 the following year once the policy had kicked in and by 2014-15, 1,147 patients were treated at a private hospital.

NHS Grampian has the second-lowest rate of hitting the target in Scotland. with 82.2% of patients being seen within the time limit.

Professor Jamie Weir, chairman of Aberdeen-based patients lobby group PACT, said the fact patients were getting their operations when required was welcome.

However, he said the trend potentially had far-reaching impacts on patient care and the NHS in the north-east.

The retired consultant radiologist said: “The continuity of care is lost, the patient’s journey is fragmented, which has been shown to be detrimental to care in the short and long term.

“I would also question how easy it is for the patient and their relatives to get to Edinburgh and Glasgow for treatment and follow-up.

“Referral is not cheap, as shown by these figures, so what effect is the cost of these procedures having on other non-surgical treatments in Grampian?”

A spokeswoman for NHS Grampian said: “We are committed to meeting the 12-week target for all patients.

“Currently it is not always possible for us to do this.

“There are protocols in place which allow for referral to other centres – both NHS and private.

“We have invested £16million in new theatres at Woodend and ARI to improve our ability to treat patients, within waiting times, in the north-east.

“In time, we expect this additional capacity to lead to a reduction in our use of the private sector.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said that overall NHS spend in the private sector had fallen and represented only 0.8% of NHS Scotland’s frontline spending, despite a rise in the number of operations carried out.

She added: “As part of our plans to meet this increased demand, we have provided extra investment to increase capacity at the Golden Jubilee National Hospital, which is just one way we are ensuring more people are treated more quickly by the NHS.”

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