Sturgeon under pressure as Scots face ‘extremely worrying’ waiting times for surgery

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A Scottish Government report said that policies were being developed to ensure fair access to the “limited surgical resource” as the health service recovers from the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak. Discussing the recovery of cancer surgery, the report says health boards should set up clinical prioritisation groups (CPGs).

The report added: “Current estimates are that surgery services will operate in most health boards at around 60 percent of pre-Covidlevels for the next 24 months, and perhaps longer if there are further surges in COVID-19 incidence.

“Scottish Government, therefore, recommends that health boards (and hospitals) implement local governance policies to ensure fair and reasonable access to a limited surgery resource in terms of both hospital beds and elective green-site theatre capacity.”

It sets out a framework for classifying patients into five groups, ranging from “priority level one” cases, where surgery is needed within 72 hours, to “priority level four”, where surgery can be safely scheduled after 12 weeks.

But Cancer Research UK said there is “huge concern” patients may not receive the best treatment.


Marion O’Neill, head of external affairs for Devolved Nations at the charity, said: “It’s of huge concern that patients may not be able to receive the best possible treatment for their cancer.

“It’s clear from this report that COVID-19 has already had, and will continue to have, a significant impact.

“For some people, surgery can be a cure. Patients can receive other treatments, such as radiotherapy, in some cases.

“But this won’t always be possible so it’s extremely worrying that it’s anticipated that surgical services will operate on such a profoundly reduced basis.”

She added: “It’s vital health boards and Scottish Government continue to work together to make the most effective use of existing staff, equipment and approaches to care to address this backlog and ensure as many patients as possible can receive timely surgery.”

Janice Preston, Macmillan Cancer Support’s head of service in Scotland, added: “We need to look at innovative solutions as quickly as possible, such as the private sector and using the Louisa Jordan.

“Now is the time for radical thinking, otherwise the backlog is going to continue to grow and grow.”

Professor Michael Griffin, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh warned that surgeons will be facing a significant challenge in the months ahead.

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He added: “While these are absolutely necessary, it means surgeons will be facing a significant challenge in working through the backlog of patients”.

He stressed that the Scottish Government “must increase the capacity of suitable locations to carry out operations in.”

In response to the concerns, at the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said urgent treatments should still be going ahead and returning services to normal is a “priority.”

Fiona McQueen, Scotland’s chief nursing officer said the health service is looking into making use of facilities such as the NHS Louisa Jordani in Glasgow emergency hospital or remote consultations which has yet to treat COVID patients.

She said: “It’s our dearest wish that anyone who needs any kind of treatment or care within the NHS gets it.

“But what people in Scotland need to know is that we are absolutely prioritising those that are urgent and cannot wait.

“So not everything is immediate and urgent but certainly we will be expecting to see our cancer patients being treated and we are doing everything we possibly can.”

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