UP TO 500 Scots patients face being sent to Europe for surgery as a health board struggles to meet treatment targets.
NHS Lothian said patients will be offered other alternatives measures at clinics in countries such as Norway, Spain or Belgium because they can’t provide the legal guarantee of treatment within 12 weeks.
The new guarantee was introduced at the start of October and it means those due to receive surgery in December may have to travel abroad for their operations.
Between 400 and 500 patients are set to miss the December deadline.
But NHS Lothian claimed that only a small number would face operations outside of Scotland.
MSPs and patient groups expressed concern at the plans.
Tim Davidson, NHS Lothian’s chief executive, said: “We can’t plan to break the law. If we keep going the way we are, we could have 400 to 500 patients who require complex procedures who may not be seen.
“We need to ramp up our scope for where we look for treatment.
“Any patient listed for inpatient or day case treatment from 1 October has a legal right to be treated within 12 weeks and our job is to try and treat them locally and we will do all we can to ensure that happens.
“If we can’t do that we’ll try to do it in Scotland, if we can’t do it in Scotland we’ll try in the United Kingdom, if we can’t do it in the UK it’s Europe, but we expect the numbers who are offered treatment outside of Scotland to be low.
“We are discussing the processes for identifying and selecting healthcare providers outwith Scotland and processes will be in place to ensure the standards and quality of treatment.”
Patients who stay in hospitals outside Scotland may have to stay there for more than a week, but flight and accommodation costs for a family member will be paid as well.
Labour Lothians MSP Sarah Boyack: “I’ve been arguing for more investment to target the backlog of patients needing treatment.
“We were previously told that the new staff were being recruited and that facilities in other health boards and in private hospitals would be used.
“It seems that even these measures will not be enough to sort out this problem.
“Given the pressure on NHS funding these are scarce resources that should be invested locally.
“I’ll be asking for more information to pin down the scale of this issue and how much its actually going to cost.”
Dr Jean Turner of the Scotland Patients’ Association, said: “I think there’s been very poor management – when NHS Lothian had problems the health secretary should have been informed.
The health board said it could take two years for internal capacity to be increased to the appropriate levels, with 1000 patients waiting for inpatient or day case treatment
The Scottish Government said it did not believe patients would have to go aborad, despite NHS Lothian’s admission.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We have made clear to NHS Lothian that patients should be treated as locally as possible.
“NHS Lothian has been asked to precisely quantify and demonstrate that all possible treatment options are considered and will be utilised if appropriate.
“We do not envisage patients travelling to Europe for treatment.”