Find a cure for ailing service

Forth Valley Royal Hospital
Forth Valley Royal Hospital

Almost 1000 people in Forth Valley waited more than four and a half months to be treated by a hospital doctor.

Some of them would be in pain, many would be extremely anxious and all of them had been let down by a system that said their treatment should have begun within that timescale.

Now health chiefs have been told the numbers are too bitter a pill to swallow and something must be done to remedy the situation ... and quickly.

Health boards had been given a target by the Scottish Government of treating 90 per cent of patients within 18 weeks of them being referred by a GP.

Across Scotland, only NHS Forth Valley and its counterparts in NHS Lothian have failed to comply with this timescale for the last four months.

And its 83.7 per cent rate leaves the local health authority languishing at the bottom of the table as the worst performer in the country.

The last time it managed to make the target was May.

Now politicians have joined patients in wanting to know how the situation has arisen and, more importantly, what is being done to bring about a fast recovery.

It comes at a time when NHS Forth Valley has been forced to admit that despite having a new £300 million state-of-the-art hospital at Larbert, it still faces problems hiring experienced staff.

There are also reports of consultants telling patients that neither Forth Valley Royal or the four community hospitals have enough beds to meet demand.

Concerns have also been raised that should a severe outbreak of flu hit the district over the winter months, the acute hospital could struggle to cope, resulting in even longer waits for treatment.

Falkirk West MSP Michael Matheson, who is also the country’s Public Health Minister, said: “NHS Forth Valley’s performance in this area is unacceptable and there is a clear need for the board to make improvements so that it’s performance is similar to other health boards.

“I know from my constituents who have contacted me on this issue that they want to see improvements, and I have written to the chair of the board asking why their performance has slipped and what action will be taken to address the 

Figures show that in September this year 4600 patients journeys in Forth Valley were within 18 weeks. However, a further 933 waited over this timescale, more than 10 per cent of all the delayed cases in Scotland.

However, NHS Forth Valley was one of only three health authorities who could provide information about every patient journey.

Central Scotland MSP Margaret Mitchell said: “For 4600 patients this is a good news story, but this doesn’t mean the wellbeing of the 933 who have waited longer than four months to start treatment can be ignored.”

A spokeswoman for NHS Forth Valley admitted meeting the 18-week target in recent months had been “particularly challenging”.

She said: “This is due to a number of reasons, including a significant increase in demand for some specialities, including ophthalmology where problems in older people are being picked up earlier leading to them being referred for a number of procedures. An action plan is now in place to address waiting times.

“In audiology we have seen a big increase in the number of patients and extra staff have been recruited.”

She added that there were longer waits for neurology, but a consultant was being brought in from a neighbouring area to help ease the burden.

With a national shortage of rheumatology specialists, she said the board had difficulty in recruiting an additional locum consultant.

The spokeswoman said: “We are continuing to work towards meeting the 18-week referral to treatment target, which covers the whole patient journey from the time of referral by a GP to treatment starting. This includes outpatient appointments.

“We are on track to meet the new 12-week waiting time guarantee for inpatient and day cases which covers the time from when the decision to treat is made to the time when treatment starts.”

She added there were around 950 inpatient beds across the region and this was sufficient capacity to meet current and future needs.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “NHS Forth Valley has indicated challenges in a number of specialities and we are working with the health board on putting an action plan in place to address these issues.

“NHS Forth Valley has provided an assurance that it is on track to meet the legally binding 12-week treatment time guarantee and improve performance against the 18-week referral to treatment target. NHS Forth Valley has also provided an assurance that they have sufficient bed capacity to meet current and future patient needs.”