Action plan to reduce waiting times not failing, insists Nicola Sturgeon

Nicola Sturgeon has insisted her Government’s £850 million waiting times action plan is not failing – despite recent figures showing NHS performance against targets has hit a record low.

The First Minister came under pressure after the Scottish Government’s treatment time guarantee – which promises inpatient or day case treatment within 12 weeks – was met for just over two-thirds (68.4%) of patients in the first three months of the year.

That was down from 72.9% in the last three months of 2018, with performance reaching the lowest level since the legally-binding guarantee was introduced in October 2012.

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Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said the standard had now been breached 212,867 times since it was introduced by Ms Sturgeon when she was health secretary.

Accusing the Scottish Government of putting independence ahead of the NHS in its priorities, the Tory told MSPs: “That is 212,000 broken promises to patients from a Government that puts the NHS second behind its own priorities.”

She raised the issue at First Minister’s Questions in the Scottish Parliament after figures showed “another 23,000 patients missed the so-called 12-week guarantee for treatment in Scotland in the three months up to March”.

Ms Davidson said: “That is an utter disgrace.

Ruth Davidson
Ruth Davidson

“Indeed under the current Health Secretary (Jeane Freeman), the number of patients being seen within that alleged guaranteed time has fallen from 74% to just 68%.”

She demanded to know if Ms Freeman would still be in her position if the NHS fails to meet the target, set out in the Government’s £850 million waiting times action plan, for having the treatment time guarantee met for 75% of patients by October.

Ms Sturgeon said her Health Secretary is “getting on with the job of delivering for patients”, as she stressed ministers are “determined” to meet the waiting times targets.

But Ms Davidson argued: “The trouble with the improvement plan is it was introduced six months ago and since then the headline figures have got worse and not better, in fact they are the worse they have ever been.”

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The First Minister pointed to an 8.5% reduction in the number of ongoing waits over 12 weeks over the last quarter, adding the total number of new patients with waits over 12 weeks had been reduced by almost 16%.

But Ms Davidson responded: “If the selective use of statistics by this Government were a cure, Scotland would be the healthiest country in the world.

“The First Minister is conveniently forgetting the failure to meet the 18-week referral target, the one in five patients that are waiting too long for psychological therapy, the fewer than half of patients who are getting musculoskeletal services within four weeks, that almost a fifth of patients with urgent cancer referrals are waiting more than two months.”

Ms Sturgeon insisted “real progress is being made by this Government” in tackling waiting times

Jeane Freeman
Jeane Freeman

She told MSPs: “The plan is not failing, and anybody who understands how the health service operates and the integrated nature of it would understand that.

“The underlying trend is in the right direction. We are reducing those that are waiting longest.

“Since we introduced the treatment time guarantee, 1,767,000 have been treated within it, faster treatment than they would be getting otherwise.

“There has been in the last quarter that 8.5% reduction in the number of ongoing waits over 12 weeks, that is because this Government is investing in the waiting times improvement plan, and we will carry on doing that.”