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NHS backlog hits 840,000 as inpatients waiting a year jumps by 25%

The number of patients on an NHS waiting list has increased (Jeff Moore/PA)
The number of patients on an NHS waiting list has increased (Jeff Moore/PA)

NHS waiting lists have increased to more than 840,000, figures show, as the number of inpatients waiting more than a year for treatment jumped by a quarter.

Statistics released by Public Health Scotland on the number of people waiting for outpatient, inpatient or day case treatment, or one of the eight key diagnostic tests, show the figure increased to 840,300 in the quarter up to the end of March.

This is an increase from 824,725 at the end of 2023 – an increase of 1.8%.

Of those waiting, 534,178 were waiting for outpatient treatment, up by 10% from the same point last year and more than double the size of the list before the pandemic.

For inpatient treatment, 156,108 were waiting – a slight decrease from the previous quarter, but by 5.8% from last year and more than double the average waiting times in 2019.

In July 2022, former health secretary Humza Yousaf laid out plans to “eradicate” long waits for treatment, including ending two-year waits for inpatient treatment by September of that, 18-month waits by September 2023 and those over a year by September 2024.

The targets “have yet to be achieved” the statistical body said, reporting that more than 7,000 people were still waiting more than two years and the number waiting more than 12 months stood at 37,761 – up 24.2% in the past year.

Of those waiting, 1,369 have been on the list for more than three years.

The figures also looked at the eight key diagnostic tests – including coloscopies, CT scans and MRI scans – showing 150,014 people were still waiting on March 31.

The figure is 4% higher than the previous quarter, but a decrease of about 2,000 since last year.

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “We are determined to ensure people receive the treatment they need as soon as possible.

“Scottish Government investment of £30 million is being targeted at a series of national and local plans to reduce the national backlogs that built up throughout the pandemic.

“We are working with NHS Boards to reduce long waits, including the delivery of the commitments in our £1 billion NHS recovery plan to support an increase in inpatient, day-case, and outpatient activity, and the creation of our national treatment centres (NTCs) programme – which is the single biggest increase in planned care capacity ever created in NHS Scotland.

“Two national treatment centres opened last year in Fife and Highland, with two further centres opening soon in Forth Valley and the Golden Jubilee, providing additional protected capacity for patients across Scotland.

“We know there are still unacceptable waits in some specialities, but we are making progress. Despite the exceptionally challenging winter period, the level of activity for inpatient and day case patients was at its highest since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in the latest quarter; the ninth increase in a row.

“The number of new outpatient attendances (completed waits) was also at its highest since the beginning of the pandemic, with 324,553 patients seen.”

But Scottish Tory health spokesman Dr Sandesh Gulhane said the backlog was “out of control”.

“Over 840,000 Scots are still waiting for crucial treatment or diagnostic tests, with many of them being forced to endure unacceptable waits of over a year or more,” he added.

“Humza Yousaf’s flimsy Covid recovery plan and the SNP’s dire workforce planning has left my frontline colleagues stretched to the limit and unable to deal with the surge in demand.

“Rather than obsessing over independence, the SNP should focus their efforts on tackling the crisis that is engulfing our NHS.”

Scottish Labour deputy leader Dame Jackie Baillie said Scotland’s health service was “on life support but neither the SNP nor the Tories have a plan to fix it”.

“Families turn to the NHS in their most desperate moments, but rather than getting the reassurance and treatment they seek, they are left watching the clock tick while their condition grows worse,” she added.

“Nearly one in six Scots are now languishing on a waiting list knowing that this SNP Government’s incompetence could be a matter of life and death.

“Scottish taxpayers are spending more but not getting even the basic guarantee that they will be cared for in return.

“Our country needs change, and for that we need credible and effective leadership in both Holyrood and Westminster.”

Scottish Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said the blame “lies solely at the door of the SNP and their mismanagement of the health service”.

“They have failed to give our hard-working NHS staff the beds, safe staffing and resources they desperately need,” he said.

“Neil Gray needs to get a handle on this, and fast.”