Almost 780,000 Scots found themselves on an NHS waiting list for an appointment, treatment, or test, new figures show.
Statistics published on Tuesday by Public Health Scotland show a rise in the number of people waiting, from 772,887 on December 31 to 779,533 as of March 31.
Some 479,725 people were waiting for an outpatient appointment on March 31, an increase of 0.5% (2,617) from December 31 and 14.5% higher than the same date last year.
Since March 2020 – the beginning of lockdowns in response to the pandemic in the UK – the waiting list has grown by 87%. A Scottish Government target aims to ensure 95% of patients are seen within 12 weeks. Of those waits, 31,498 people had been waiting longer than 1 year for their procedure, the figures show.
Meanwhile, 147,241 patients were on the waiting list for inpatient or day case treatment, up by 1.9% (2,724) from December, 12.6% higher than the same date last year and 89.8% higher than before the pandemic. Of those waiting, 6985 people had been on the list for longer than 2 years, despite a government target of patients waiting no more than 12 weeks following a decision to treat.
The number of people waiting for 1 of 8 key diagnostic tests also increased by 2.9% since December, rising to 152,567. According to the figures, 47.9% of those waiting exceeded the 6-week government target.
Elsewhere, the Scottish Government’s target of having 90% of patients treated within 18 weeks of referral was again missed, with 67.6% treated in that time scale, a drop from 1.8% compared to the previous quarter.
'Continued Reduction' in Some Longer Waits
Health Secretary Michael Matheson said the impact of the pandemic, which led to "the worst winter in the history of the NHS", must be recognised. He added: "The pausing of non-emergency treatment inevitably led to further planned care delays and an increase in waiting times.
"Despite that, we have seen an increase in the level of activity for new outpatients and inpatient/day cases in the quarter to end March 2023, and the highest level of activity in any quarter since the start of the pandemic. We have also seen sustained increases for outpatients and for inpatients.
"While there is more still to do, there has also been a continued reduction in long waits over 18 months, as well as a significant reduction in long waits over 2 years since targets were announced last July.
He said the Scottish Government continues to work closely with NHS boards to maximise capacity and reduce the length of time people are waiting for appointments and treatment.
"Challenges remain and there are still unacceptable waits in some specialities, but we remain committed to delivering sustained improvements and year-on-year reductions through maximising capacity across Scotland, enhancing regional and national working and the redesign of services of care."
Recovery Will Take 'Years'
During a visit to Castlebrae Community Campus in Edinburgh, Humza Yousaf told the PA news agency that NHS recovery was a priority for the government but it would require "difficult choices".
The First Minister said: "There’s going to be a long way to go.
"The recovery plan is purposely a 5-year recovery plan because we know that recovery from the pandemic – which was the biggest shock the NHS faced for almost 75 years – is going to take us not weeks or months, but years to recover from."
Scottish Tory health spokesman Dr Sandesh Gulhane said the "horrific" figures "underline the legacy of Humza Yousaf's disastrous stewardship of Scotland’s NHS", calling on the Health Secretary to publish a new NHS recovery plan.
He added: "It is disgraceful that close to 800,000 Scots are languishing on an NHS waiting list – and things are only getting worse.
"We know that if patients suffer lengthy delays for appointments or crucial diagnostic tests, the greater the risk is to their health. In the worst case scenarios, these delays lead to needless deaths."