Our NHS is in turmoil. Waiting times are soaring, patient waiting lists are overflowing and bed numbers for those who desperately need them are dwindling.

Time and time again, I have pressed the Scottish Government to act on the NHS crisis and take the urgent action needed to save lives, whether this be tackling the problems associated with Covid or the waiting lists for cancer treatment. Most recently, I have been shocked to learn about waiting times for eye surgery in Scotland.

I’ve heard reports that some patients are waiting up to, and beyond, nine months for urgent, necessary operations such as laser surgery for cataracts. A nine-month wait is nine months too long when you are living without your usual eyesight.

For many, the loss of their eyesight can be distressing and anxiety-inducing. The NHS should be there to offer quick, comforting care in these situations. We should never reach a point at which the NHS amplifies anxiety and distress. Whilst waiting times soar and staff come under increasing pressure, many patients are left with deteriorating health and a sense of wondering when they will be given the standard of healthcare they are entitled to.

Families all over Scotland will be experiencing situations like this. For them, it is not just a delayed operation. It is a fear of the unknown and a sense that the very service designed to give them care is instead causing them to deteriorate, due to poor planning and management by the SNP government.

Responsibility for this crisis in our healthcare system lies with the Scottish Government for failing to properly fund and run our NHS. Those working on the frontline – doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers – work incredibly hard and are under-appreciated. They are not given the tools they need to do their jobs and help others, whilst simultaneously being overworked, underpaid and understaffed. Those who work to save our lives and improve our quality of life deserve better than this.

I have raised the matter of waiting times for so long, with the Scottish Government and NHS Lothian. They need to stop playing the blame game and actually take action to solve this crisis. 

The solution, however, is not privatisation. It was shocking to learn recently of reports that NHS Scotland chiefs have discussed the possibility of creating a ‘two-tier’ NHS, whereby some patients would have to pay for treatment. We have all seen sad scenes from the USA and elsewhere where some patients can ill afford life-saving treatment. We cannot allow our health service to go the same way.

The reality, sadly, is that the NHS has been so plagued by long waiting times that it already is, in essence, a two-tier system, with many forced to go private. I have had constituents approach me time and time again, saddened and anxious about the length of time it is taking for them to get much-needed healthcare. One constituent told me that the current management of the NHS was “privatisation by the back door”.

Anas Sarwar, Scottish Labour leader, recently discussed staggering figures showing just how many people in Scotland have had private spells in hospital: 39,000 patients between April 1, 2021, and March 31, 2022. For cataract surgery, more than 7,800 people went private, at an average cost of £2,660.

In NHS eyecare, in particular, I have witnessed a distinct lack of forward planning and also how the Scottish Government continues to remove vital funding from NHS services. It only takes a quick glance at the plans for the new Edinburgh Eye Pavilion to see the devastating impact that this incompetence can have on patients. Whilst the Scottish Government wasted time on removing and then reinstating funds for the new development, when political pressure got too much for them, patients with visual impairment and blindness were left in a distressing limbo, not knowing when they would be treated and whether it would be suitable for their needs.

This situation was made very clear at a roundtable meeting I recently attended with Eye Pavilion patients, organised by my colleague Sarah Boyack MSP who has also been working tirelessly on this issue.

I was also shocked to learn at the roundtable that NHS Lothian routinely sends cataract operation patients to the Golden Jubilee hospital in Clydebank, meaning that patients who have just undergone operations on their eyes must travel across the country to get home. If this were to continue, the future of NHS Lothian would look grim in terms of patient ease and accessibility. I am glad to hear that NHS Lothian plans to bring a portion of these cataract operations back to Lothian. However, we need urgent and concrete action – not the promise of a future dream.

The Scottish Government needs to wake up and acknowledge the effect that their incompetence is having on patients and invest in a forward-thinking consultation process which prioritises lived experience, and to design a new Pavilion which truly is fit for purpose. If we’re going to wait so long for the NHS to deliver, whether this be on new buildings, waiting times, or new treatments, then at least let’s make sure that it’s worth the wait.

I want to see a health service of the standard we all know it can be. That’s an NHS which delivers fast and compassionate care to those who urgently need it and which supports and recognises the vital role of its staff, instead of over-burdening them in an overflowing system deep in crisis. Whether it be on the issue of waiting times in eyecare, cancer care, or elsewhere in the NHS, I will continue to raise this matter wherever possible. Enough is enough, it’s time for the Scottish Government to stop putting lives at risk.

Read the article here: https://www.scotsman.com/news/opinion/columnists/scotlands-nhs-is-being-privatised-by-the-back-door-as-thousands-pay-for-treatment-foysol-choudhury-3942008

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