North-east health chiefs quizzed on chronic pain waiting times

Health Secretary Shona Robison has revealed that she quizzed north-east health chiefs about long waiting times experienced by the region’s chronic pain sufferers.

The SNP minister blamed staff shortages for a reduction in services but said she had been assured that extra clinics would begin this month.

The remarks follow concerns that NHS Grampian had spent just £35,000 of almost £5million of funding to cut waiting times on chronic pain, despite many patients having to wait more than double the 18-week treatment target.

After north-east MSP Tom Mason raised the issue at Holyrood, Ms Robison wrote to the Scottish Conservative saying that action was being taken.

She said: “I can assure you that this government is of course very much committed to ensuring that all patients have swift access to the full range of services they need from the NHS in Scotland.

“With regards to waiting times for access to pain clinics, I am aware the pain service in NHS Grampian has been dealing with a significant rate of staff absence during the past year, which has reduced the number of clinics they were able to run.

“I have been in contact with NHS Grampian about this matter and have been informed that additional clinics are being offered to patients this month to help improve performance.”

Last night, Mr Mason said he was pleased that the SNP government had acknowledged that there was a “serious problem” with the service at NHS Grampian.

He said: “The staffing problems experienced by the local health board are well-documented, but that will provide little comfort to those who are waiting to be seen.

“Additional clinics that are planned should help to improve the waiting times, and should be welcomed.

“However, the health board will continue to struggle in many areas until the recruitment challenges can be fully addressed and the government provides a fairer funding deal.”

NHS Grampian said patients were continuing to be dealt with according to their clinical needs.

A spokeswoman said: “The challenges we face in the chronic pain service across Grampian are well known, in particular around the difficulties in recruiting staff.

“It is a very specialist field and we continue to provide the best service we can in the current circumstances. We seek to maintain a balance in service delivery to new and review patients both in terms of procedures and out patients.

“Patients are prioritised on clinical need and if a patient’s condition changes their GP can alert the hospital.”