PATIENTS in chronic pain awaiting NHS treatment can now view comprehensive waiting time statistics following a cross-party complaint and a rebuke by the UK Statistics Regulator over cuts to information.

The Scottish Government has been accused of “awful interference” in waiting time statistics, after a Government official wanted facts reduced on new patients and also suggested the time taken to treat returning patients should be kept under wraps.

The Scottish Parliament’s cross party group on chronic pain complained to the UK Statistics Regulator when previously published statistics were redacted last year on new patients.

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But on uncounted return patients, NHS Information Services Division (ISD) took swift action behind the scenes when the complaint went public in March and began collecting data on patients returning for treatment, which health boards don't send to ISD at present.

However, they were halted swiftly by Colin Urquhart, Scottish Government team leader on chronic pain, who objected to ISD's review.

“I don’t think we would want to start publishing this information,” he said in an email uncovered by the cross-party group.

The regulator, in September, encouraged ISD to resume getting boards to reveal how long follow up patients waited.

There are thought to be many thousands and some believe their plight is worse because they are "invisible" as uncounted sufferers.

Return patients had reported to the Cross Party Group that some were waiting up to a year, some for almost two years, for treatment renewal.

Around 800,000 people in Scotland are living in long term pain but only a minority are referred to NHS specialist care, estimates suggest.

Ed Humpherson, director general at the Office for UK Statistics Regulation, concluded that ISD “made a series of misjudged decisions” which “reduced the usefulness and accessibility of the statistics”.

He did not believe the redaction was "politically motivated” - but he did conclude it put the needs of Government policymakers over other users and suggested the data should be restored.

MSPs have now hailed “a victory for patient power” as the latest publication now includes the previously redacted data. (

Alex Neil, the SNP's former health secretary, who is on the cross party group, said: “Common sense and the power of transparency and openness have prevailed. I am delighted that ISD has listened to reason.

“This change of policy demonstrates the positive influence of the cross party group on chronic pain.”

Miles Briggs, Conservative health spokesman, said: “The restoration of some key chronic pain data in the ISD statistics is very welcome and is a victory for patient power and for the cross party group.

“The Scottish Government now needs to step up to the mark in terms of addressing the unacceptable waiting times for treatment.”

Ian Semmons, chair of the charity Action on Pain, said: “Sadly, there remains a deafening silence from those officials in the Scottish Government who were responsible for this awful interference which had such a negative impact on those affected by chronic pain."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “ISD amended publication summaries of chronic pain statistics following patient feedback, not because of any government involvement."

Liz Barrie, a Lanarkshire return patient who has sometimes endured waits of over a year for six monthly treatment renewals, said that ISD's overruling of Government officials over keeping return patient information secret was a vital change.

She said: "At present, I'm one of thousands who don't exist; therefore not a target to be measured. I'm nobody and no management will be taken to task over patients who need to return time and again to a chronic provision - because we are invisible and my suffering is very bad."

Dorothy-Grace Elder, voluntary secretary of the Holyrood group, added: “These bad waiting times need more staff, not cuts to information on how bad they are. Thankfully, ISD and the Regulator have reacted well, signaling a ‘hands off’ stance on negative interference which should help protect all health statistics. Mr Humpherson is continuing to study them. ISD’s leaders have already met very positively with some from our Group and I warmly welcome their invitation to work with us in future in the public interest”.