First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has officially opened the new National Treatment Centre (NTC) in Fife - one of a network of elective hubs geared to tackling Scotland's waiting list backlog.

The state-of-the-art facility at the Victoria Hospital in Kirkcaldy - which was originally scheduled to launch in 2022 - is expected to provide capacity for an extra 700 orthopaedic procedures a year, including hip and knee replacements, by 2025/26.

Another three NTCs - in Forth Valley, Highland, and at the Golden Jubilee hospital in Clydebank - are due to open later this year.

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It comes after recent figures revealed that there were still almost 7000 patients in Scotland on NHS lists for operations who had been waiting over two years by the end of December, in comparison to just 1,122 in England by January.

HeraldScotland: Ms Sturgeon meets at patient at the new NTC in FifeMs Sturgeon meets at patient at the new NTC in Fife (Image: PA)

Ms Sturgeon said: “We are determined to ensure people receive the treatment they need as soon as possible so I am pleased to officially open the Fife centre, which will give people across the country faster access to life-changing orthopaedic surgery.

“The additional capacity provided through this new state-of-the-art facility will also help cut the backlog of planned care worsened by the global pandemic.”

Meanwhile, guided tours of NHS Highland's new NTC in Inverness, which is due to open in mid-April, will be available to the public next weekend.

Two open days on Saturday and Sunday will give locals a chance to see inside the 24-bed facility, which will specialise in orthopaedics and ophthalmology such as cataract surgery.

HeraldScotland: The original timescale for the NTC network has slippedThe original timescale for the NTC network has slipped (Image: Scottish Government)

READ MORE: Nearly 7000 Scots still waiting over two years for NHS ops

NHS Highland has now recruited 90 per cent of the workforce needed for the facility, which will also have five operating theatres and 13 consulting rooms.

The network of NTCs will take patients from all over Scotland, not just their local regions, in a bid to prioritise the most urgent cases and those who have been waiting the longest. 

Deborah Jones, NHS Highland's director of strategic planning, said patients will "benefit not only from beautiful surroundings but also the care of a committed team, thanks to the NTC’s capacity to help tackle the backlog resulting from the challenges of the pandemic".

She added: "The NTC will be transformational for patients, and our upcoming open days will allow the public to access the building for the first time, as we prepare for its exciting future.”

HeraldScotland: One of the new operating theatres at the NTC in Inverness, which is set to open in AprilOne of the new operating theatres at the NTC in Inverness, which is set to open in April (Image: NHS Highland)

It comes as a laser treatment which can remove tumours in patients with bladder cancer without the need for general anaesthetic is being made available for the first time on the NHS in Scotland.

The urology department at Forth Valley Royal hospital will be the first to provide the procedure, known as TULA (Trans Urethral Laser Ablation).

The service can be used for patients who have a suspected recurrence of bladder cancer.

It enables clinicians to examine the bladder using a camera on a thin flexible tube that uses laser treatment to remove any abnormal tissue.

The TULA procedure - which takes around 10 to 20 minutes - can be performed under local anaesthetic, avoiding the need for a hospital admission.

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Mr Gavin Lamb, a consultant urologist at NHS Forth Valley, said: “TULA has been a revelation as it can be used as an alternative to standard diathermy treatment, a less reliable and well tolerated treatment, which uses heat to destroy a tumour.

“Almost all the patients who have experienced the previous treatment have commented on how much better their treatment experience has been with TULA.

"Also, because it is so well tolerated, we have been able to treat much larger tumours that, in the past, would have required a general anaesthetic."

HeraldScotland: (L-R) Leanne Hamill (Urology Advanced Clinical Nurse Specialist),Mr Gavin Lamb (Consultant Urologist) Lynda Brown and Eva Cadenhead (Staff Nurses in the Urology Department) (L-R) Leanne Hamill (Urology Advanced Clinical Nurse Specialist),Mr Gavin Lamb (Consultant Urologist) Lynda Brown and Eva Cadenhead (Staff Nurses in the Urology Department) (Image: NHS Forth Valley)

The technique sees a tiny 'telescope' device pass through the urethra into the bladder, allowing medics to view it from the inside. A fine laser fibre is then passed through this telescope to treat any suspicious growths or lesions.

Leanne Hamill, one of the first nurse cystoscopists in Scotland who has been trained to use the new laser treatment, said: “Previously, patients had their treatment for bladder cancer performed under a general anaesthetic which required a day or overnight stay in hospital.

"However, TULA allows us to avoid general anaesthetics for many patients, particular those with multiple health conditions where undergoing a general anaesthetic carries greater risks.”