During the Scottish Parliament’s Topical Questions session Mid-Scotland and Fife MSP Murdo Fraser quizzed the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing Alex Neil on the alleged manipulation of waiting list statistics by NHS Tayside.
Earlier this year former Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon was forced to lead a full scale investigation into waiting list manipulation by NHS Lothian. Back in March the NHS Lothian incident was viewed as an isolated event. However, it now appears that waiting list manipulation is tool a used by under pressure health boards to meet Scottish Government targets.
Exchange enclosed below:
The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing (Alex Neil): To ensure that all NHS boards are fully complying with waiting time guidance, earlier this year the Scottish Government instructed all NHS boards to undertake an extensive internal audit of their waiting time practices. We expect those audits to be completed and published by the end of the year.
Murdo Fraser: Yesterday, we learned that two top executives in NHS Tayside have been suspended following the Audit Scotland investigation to which the cabinet secretary referred into discrepancies in waiting time figures. That follows allegations of behaviour in NHS Grampian to massage waiting lists and, of course, the fiasco earlier this year in NHS Lothian. Will he now accept that there is an endemic problem with manipulation of data in NHS boards across Scotland? What urgent steps is he taking to sort out the situation?
Alex Neil: To date, only two of the 14 boards have identified problems, namely NHS Lothian and NHS Tayside. I will wait until I receive all 14 audit reports from the 14 health boards before rushing to judgment.
For obvious reasons, I cannot comment in detail on the two suspensions in NHS Tayside, which Mr Fraser mentioned. Apart from anything else, I am not the employer. The health board is the employer.
Murdo Fraser: I think that most reasonable people would think that two out of 14 to date is a pretty serious failure rate for the NHS boards.
We have had cause to question the Scottish National Party Government’s figures in other areas and we have found them wanting. Now we are wondering whether we can trust its NHS waiting times and waiting list figures. Given the seriousness of the situation, will the cabinet secretary request time for an urgent statement to Parliament so that we can have the matter fully discussed and debated?
Alex Neil: I will be happy to report back to the Parliament once all the facts are clear, and they will be available when the audit reports are published by the end of the year. I emphasise that they are going to be published. Everything will be in the public domain, so if there are problems in any other health boards apart from NHS Lothian and possibly NHS Tayside, they will come to light with the publication of the audit reports. We are being totally transparent on the issue. The time to make a judgment will be once people have the facts, and not beforehand.
Commenting outside the chamber Murdo Fraser MSP said:
“Waiting list manipulation appears to be endemic within Scotland’s health boards. First it was NHS Lothian, then NHS Grampian and now NHS Tayside. How much deeper will these revelations go?
“Fiddling statistics has become a common ploy for an SNP government that has witnessed a series of embarrassing gaffs this term. First we had no waiting lists for college places, then we had 18,000 renewable jobs, and now we have even more massaged waiting list statistics.
“At the heart of these inaccuracies lie very real concerns, too many patients are waiting for treatment and too many patients have waited far too long already.
“Make no mistake the staff at our hospitals are working incredibly hard. However, decisions taken centrally are reducing their ability to deal with the sheer volume of patients. The SNP needs to wise-up and remedy the problems within our health service instead of having time wasted altering the statistics.”