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Humza Yousaf criticised for ‘moving goalposts’ on hospital waiting times

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf
Health Secretary Humza Yousaf

Humza Yousaf has been criticised for lowering the bar when it comes to hospital waiting times.

The health secretary visited Perth Royal Infirmary on Wednesday to unveil what he described as “ambitious” new targets to address spiralling waits for appointments.

This includes a promise to give patients who have been waiting for more than two years an appointment by the end of next month in “most specialities”.

But opposition parties criticised the announcement, saying the government has set a “low bar target”.

Promise to give patients appointments

Currently around one in eight Scots are waiting for a hospital appointment.

At the end of March 2022, 6.9% of people waiting for an appointment had waited longer than a year and 0.7% had been waiting for longer than two years.

The health secretary says “most” patients who have been waiting two years will now receive an outpatient appointment by the end of August.

This is what the government is now promising:

Outpatients

  • Those waiting more than two years will get an appointment by the end of August 2022.
  • Those waiting more than 18 months will get an appointment by the end of December 2022.
  • Those waiting more than one year will get an appointment by the end of March 2023.

Inpatients

  • Those waiting more than two years will get an appointment by the end of September 2022.
  • Those waiting more than 18 months will get an appointment by the end of September 2023.
  • Those waiting more than one year will get an appointment by the end of September 2024.

‘Waiting lists are soaring’

Opposition parties accused the government of “moving the goalposts” to suit their own needs.

Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour’s health spokeswoman, said: “After months of failure to tackle the crisis in the NHS, Humza Yousaf has decided to move the goalposts in order to massage the figures.

“The facts are clear – waiting lists are soaring, A&E is in disarray and staff are burned out.

Jackie Baillie MSP

“Only substantial action to support staff will help save lives – not setting the bar lower and lower.”

Craig Hoy MSP, the Conservatives’ health spokesman, insisted the “modest targets” illustrate the scale of the problems.

He said: “It ought to be a given that no patient should ever have to wait more than two years for any kind of NHS treatment, rather than a low bar target for Humza Yousaf to aspire to.”

Mr Hoy also said the government cannot meet these new “unambitious” targets without increasing staff numbers and resources within the NHS.

It may take years, says health secretary

Mr Yousaf admitted clearing the waiting list backlog caused by the coronavirus pandemic “will take months and years”.

He said the government is focused on “protecting” elective care, and recognises too many people are waiting too long to get hospital treatment.

Humza Yousaf.

Mr Yousaf added: “From speaking to patients and clinicians across the country, I know there is a physical and mental consequence in having to wait a long period to be treat.

“That is why addressing long waits is a key focus of our plan for NHS recovery.

“We know there will be another wave of Covid, and the next wave could be even more transmissible.

“That will clearly affect these targets but we will do our best to keep on top of health boards and monitor their progress.

“It will take months and years given the pressure.”

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