THE Scottish health board have been accused of cancelling the appointments of seriously ill patients – in a bid to hit strict waiting time targets.
NHS Lothian have faced fresh criticism after it emerged they have been cancelling appointments to tend to those who were closer to breaking to the 12 week guarantee time frame.
An executive at NHS Lothian insisted that decisions to reschedule appointments were “never taken lightly” and apologised to affected patients.
Jim Crombie, chief officer of acute services at NHS Lothian, said: “We deny any suggestion that patients or waiting lists are being managed inappropriately.”
However, opposition politicians claimed the board’s alleged manipulation of waiting-time figures were “nothing new” and accused them of “playing games” with patients health.
The accusations come four years after the board were exposed for marking patients as unavailable for appointments to reduce the number of waiting time guarantee breaches.
In efforts to ensure prompt health care, the Scottish Government state that patients should wait no more than 12 weeks for planned treatment.
A source close to the health board revealed that a patient who was due to meet a specialist was told that her appointment was given to another patient from a different hospital who had waited longer for treatment.
She was later hospitalised after being rushed to A & E.
The source claimed that hundreds of patients awaiting treatments for serious conditions were being “bumped off” the waiting list by office staff who have no knowledge of individuals specific needs.
“The patient concerned was very upset that she had been bumped off the list and was later hospitalised when her health deteriorated,” said the source, “Waiting times are still being manipulated at NHS Lothian through the juggling of appointments and its patients who are suffering.”
Jackson Carlaw, the Scottish Conservatives’ health spokesman, said: “Manipulation of waiting times has been going on for quite some time in the Lothians.
“The only losers are the patients, hundreds of whom are having to wait longer than they should for all kinds of crucial procedures. The health board needs to take this issue seriously.”
Neil Findlay, Labour MSP for Lothians, said: “NHS Lothian appear to have been deprioritising seriously ill patients so that they can make their statistics look good.
“Once again, the credibility of those at the top of NHS Lothian comes into question. They are playing games with the health of patients.”
Crombie insisted that the health board aim to ensure all patients receive “swift and effective care”, adding: “We identified an issue with a number of cardiology patients who could not be offered an appointment at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh within the 12-week treatment time guarantee.
“On review of clinical capacity on all of our acute hospital sites, we identified that patients were being allocated appointments at St. Johns Hospital after a wait of about six weeks and rescheduled some of these appointments to ensure all the patients received their treatment within 12 weeks.
“This is a sensible use of available capacity.”