Scotland politics

Labour MSP Hugh Henry brands NHS waiting time guarantee a 'farce'

NHS staff generic Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Legislation gives patients in Scotland a treatment time "guarantee" of 12 weeks

NHS Scotland waiting time targets have been branded a "farce" after it emerged all health boards had missed them.

During MSPs' assessment of an Audit Scotland report, Labour MSP Hugh Henry questioned the "sanity" of a legal right that could not be enforced.

The report had found that no Scottish health board had met the target for all outpatients to receive their first appointment within 12 weeks.

NHS Scotland chief Paul Gray said it had worked hard to meet targets.

The Patients Right (Scotland) Bill was passed by the Scottish Parliament in 2011 with cross-party support. The legislation, which came into force in 2012, offers a treatment time "guarantee" of 12 weeks.

Public spending watchdog Audit Scotland also found two boards did not meet another target that 90% of patients should wait no longer than 18 weeks from referral to treatment.

'Will of Parliament'

Appearing before the Scottish Parliament's public audit committee, Mr Gray accepted that he was "not fulfilling the will of the parliament".

Committee convener Mr Henry said: "A legal guarantee is far more than a target, it's something that is enshrined in law.

"Now that legal right is not being met, so you are not fulfilling the will of parliament, the boards are not implementing the will of parliament and patients across Scotland are not having their legal entitlement observed, guaranteed or implemented.

"Is it not a farce that you have a legal right and you can ignore that?"

Mr Gray responded: "I don't accept that we are ignoring the legal guarantee. We are working very hard to meet it."

Judicial review

He said a patient facing treatment delays can "ultimately seek judicial review if they wished" or complain to their councillor, MSP or NHS board.

Mr Henry said: "So the rich, the articulate and the confident will be able to pursue some redress and the rest of the country can just go whistle?"

Mr Gray said he could "only work with the legislation as presented in parliament."

He insisted: "I do not hold the view that the poor can go whistle."

NHS Scotland performance director John Connaghan, also before the committee, said he was "cautious" about giving an undertaking that the legal obligation could be met in the near future.

The report pointed to more than 50,000 people on waiting lists in Scotland, but Mr Connaghan said the figure had been more than 100,000 over a decade ago.

"We've come a long way," he said.

Audit Scotland's report said improvements had been made to the ways waiting lists were managed and scrutinised and that all health boards met their financial targets.

The Scottish government said the 18 week treatment target had been met at national level.

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