Calls made to scrap flouted law giving guarantee of NHS treatment within 12 weeks



Pressure is mounting on Scottish ministers to scrap a law meant to give patients a legal guarantee of speedy NHS treatment following news it has been flouted in a significant number of cases.

The Treatment of Time Guarantee came into force in 2012 as part of the Patient Rights (Scotland) Act 2011, with the Scottish government saying it would give patients absolute certainty that they would be given operations within 12 weeks of being added to a waiting list.

But new figures show that despite claims that all of Scotland’s health boards would reach 100 per cent compliance with the law, the number of people whose right to timeous treatment has been breached has doubled since the law came into effect.

Between October and December last year, hospitals saw a bed crisis with over 2,300 patients receiving operations being made to wait in excess of the guarantee period – this figure is about double the total recorded in the first three months in which health boards could have potentially breached the law after it came into effect.

December saw the lowest levels of compliance ever since the legislation came into force with 1,800 patients on waiting lists – having waited over three months.

Dr Peter Bennie, chairman of the BMA in Scotland (pictured above), said the BMA did not think a “political guarantee” should ever have been enshrined in law.

He added: “During the progress of the Patient Rights Bill, the BMA lobbied for this legally binding guarantee to be removed, this was because in our view, the widespread use of centrally imposed treatment time targets has many unintended consequences, distorts clinical priorities and harms patients.

“Any objective which encourages clinicians to take actions which are potentially not in the patient’s best clinical interests is unhelpful.

“This is even more problematic if there are associated managerial imperatives which may further distort clinical decision making.”

The only recourse available to affected individuals is to seek judicial review, with health boards facing no penalties for breaking the law.

85 per cent of patients whose legal right to timeous treatment was breached between October and December last year were from the Grampian, Highland and Lothian regions.

It was announced that NHS Lothian and NHS Highland are to be given an additional £9 million to deal with the problem.

Health secretary Shona Robison (pictured right) claimed health boards were delivering “some of the lowest waiting times on record”.

She added: “This performance was maintained as we headed into the challenging winter period last year, but we know we must do more to meet some of the rightly demanding targets we have set.

“Patients would expect nothing less.

“Today’s figures showing that 97.1 per cent of inpatients and day-case patients were seen within 12 weeks.”