NEARLY 7,000 patients in Scotland are still waiting more than two years for hospital treatment, months on from a Government target to "eradicate" such long waits.

The latest NHS waiting times figures were described as "utterly shameful" by political opponents who accused SNP leadership candidate and Health Secretary, Humza Yousaf, of a "disastrous stewardship" of the health service.

The Scottish Government pledged in July last year to "eradicate two year waits for inpatient/day cases in most specialties by the end of September 2022".

In a report last week, Audit Scotland criticised the wording, saying it was "open to interpretation" because "no specific information was given to the public about what was meant by 'most specialties'".

It cautioned this could mislead patients on "high volume" lists for the most common operations, such as orthopaedics, where the backlog might take longer to clear.

Now statistics updated by Public Health Scotland show that there were still 6,856 people waiting for an inpatient or day case procedure by the end of December last year who had been on the list for at least two years.

This was a reduction of just 432 compared to 7,288 at the end of September.

READ MORE: In the NHS recovery drive, is England outpacing Scotland? 

The majority - over 2000 patients - were waiting for joint surgery, such as hip or knee replacements, with more than 1000 waiting for ear, nose and throat (ENT) procedures and 911 for urology.

The figures also suggest that Scotland is lagging well behind England in eliminating extremely long waits from NHS lists, despite having just a tenth of the population.

A report published last month by the Institute for Fiscal Studies noted that, by September last year, there were just 2,200 people still waiting for hospital treatment on NHS England whose wait-time exceeded two years, falling to an estimated 1,400 by November.

Greater use of the independent hospital sector to clear backlogs and a faster rollout of elective surgical hubs south of the border may have contributed, along with a tighter schedule for targets.

HeraldScotland: By September 2022, there were 2,200 people (maroon) in England who had been waiting over two years for hospital treatment on the NHSBy September 2022, there were 2,200 people (maroon) in England who had been waiting over two years for hospital treatment on the NHS (Image: Institute for Fiscal Studies)

HeraldScotland: By December 2022, there were 6,856 people in Scotland who had been waiting over two years for hospital treatment on the NHSBy December 2022, there were 6,856 people in Scotland who had been waiting over two years for hospital treatment on the NHS (Image: PHS)

In February 2022, the UK Government announced plans to eradicate two-year waits for NHS hospital treatment in England by July, followed by a target to eliminate waits of 18-months to two years by the end of March 2023 versus the end of September 2023 for Scotland.

The PHS report shows that, by the end of December, there were 9,767 people in Scotland who had been on NHS inpatient and day case lists for between 18 months to two years. This had climbed by around 500 since September.

In total, there were a record 144,000 people waiting for hospital treatment, including 35,690 who had been waiting over a year.

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Patients are prioritised based on clinical urgency, the length of time they have been waiting, and availability, with some patients offered referrals into other health board areas if this can speed up treatment.

PHS reports that 20,858 people were admitted to hospital for treatment in November, noting that this was "the highest number reported since the onset of the pandemic". 

However, this fell back in December "likely due to the effect of winter pressures and the festive period".

Overall, the number of admissions in the three months from October to December were 20.9 per cent below the average for 2019.

The Scottish Government also set a goal to eradicate one-year waits for outpatient appointments by the end of March 2023.

PHS notes the "efforts by health boards to reduce those patients waiting the longest", but by the end of December there were still nearly 34,500 people on outpatient lists who had been waiting over a year - down by around 3000 since the end of September.

The specialties with the highest number of outpatient waits over one year were gynaecology, ophthalmology, dermatology, and general surgery.

HeraldScotland: Health Secretary Humza Yousaf visiting NHS staffHealth Secretary Humza Yousaf visiting NHS staff (Image: PA)

Mr Yousaf said: “Despite ongoing significant pressures, it is heartening to see continued progress being made in NHS waiting times since the introduction of targets to reduce long waits in July 2022.

“The number of people being seen as inpatients/daycase and outpatient is the highest since the start of the pandemic, with most outpatient specialties having fewer than ten patients waiting over 78 weeks to be seen.

“There has also been a decrease for the first time in two years of the number of patients waiting for one of the eight key diagnostics tests.

“We know that challenges remain and some people continue to wait too long for treatment, but we are determined to continue to work with NHS Boards to provide support to drive improvements across our health service.”

READ MORE: Audit Scotland warns Govt must be 'more transparent' on missed NHS targets

Scottish Labour's health spokeswoman, Jackie Baillie, said Mr Yousaf had "presided over sky-high wait times in A&E, chaos with delayed discharge, skyrocketing cancer wait times and an increase in both outpatient and inpatient wait times". 

“He has shown absolutely no ability to solve these problems," she added.  

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader and health spokesman, Alex Cole-Hamilton, said it was "completely unacceptable" that a record 773,000 - or one in seven Scots - are now on a waiting list for an impatient/day case procedure, outpatient appointment, or key diagnostic test. 

Mr Cole-Hamilton added: “These statistics lay bare the impacts of the failure of this SNP/ Green coalition to manage Scotland’s NHS.

"They have been ignoring and deflecting when it comes to our healthcare crisis."


It comes as a separate report by PHS found that more than half of the patients on lists for a CT, MRI, diagnostic ultrasound, or an investigation such as an colonoscopy or endoscopy as of December had been waiting longer than the six week target time - the tenth month in a row that this had exceeded 50 per cent. 

However, the number who had been waiting over a year had fallen from more than 5,400 in September, to 4,638 in December. 

Patients with suspected cancers are prioritised, but the scans and tests are can also be required for people with a range of other conditions such as arthritis, hernias, multiple sclerosis or ulcerative colitis.

Pre-Covid, waits exceeding 92 days were considered extreme for patients referred for one of these key diagnostic tests. 

Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary, Dr Sandesh Gulhane - a Glasgow GP - said: “The backlog in our NHS on Humza Yousaf’s watch remains truly terrifying. No meaningful progress is being made in reducing Scotland’s enormous waiting lists.

“It is utterly shameful that well over three-quarters of a million patients are still waiting for appointments or crucial diagnostic tests.

"We know that continued delays to starting treatment only leads to further suffering for patients -and in the worst case scenarios – unnecessary deaths."