22/09/2008

Scottish Government Pledges Cap On Surgery Waiting Times

Scottish patients may soon have a legal guarantee that they will wait no longer than 12 weeks for surgery.

The Scottish Government's Patient Rights Bill proposes a strict limit on how long they have to wait from their surgical referral to receiving their operation.

Other proposals outlined as part of the Government's consultation on the bill include a clarification of feedback systems within NHS Scotland, stated responsibilities for patients including attending appointments, and independent patient rights officers for each health board area in Scotland.

"The Patients Rights Bill will be an important piece of healthcare legislation, with the power to change how we all interact with and benefit from the NHS," Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said at a cancer centre in Glasgow.

"It will put patients firmly in the driving seat, giving them more say in how services are delivered and a straightforward system of redress, on the rare occasions when things go wrong."

She also argued that the proposed guarantee of a maximum waiting time would cut the worries and stress associated with patients requiring a surgical procedure.

"I want to see the Scottish people and NHS staff become real partners - co-owners - of the health service so that they can shape a truly responsive National Health Service for the future. This is a giant step towards achieving that," she added.

The Scottish Consumer Council has welcomed the consultation, arguing that giving patients a better understanding of their rights is an important precursor to making "informed and considered decisions about their health".

"Involving the public in developing a clear statement of their rights and responsibilities will put patients firmly at the centre of the health service in Scotland," a spokesperson for the council said.

However, Labour Shadow Health Secretary Cathy Jamieson has argued that "reversing spending cuts and matching Labour's investment in health" would be the best way to cut waiting times".

"Labour believes that Government policy should focus on improving treatment for patients, not creating more work for lawyers," she added.

The Conservative public health spokesperson, Jackson Carlaw MSP, has also attacked the proposals, arguing that a more flexible health service is needed, including promoting provision of services by the independent sector.

"The best way of putting patients higher up the agenda is to improve the speed and quality of care provided by our health service," he said.

"If the SNP is serious about wanting to improve our health service it must learn to start putting patients before political dogma."

The consultation opens today and runs until January 16 2009.

(GK/JM)

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