Page last updated at 14:55 GMT, Monday, 22 September 2008 15:55 UK

New law 'to cut patient waiting'

Treatment would be guaranteed within 12 weeks

Patients in Scotland may be given a legal right to treatment within 12 weeks of being put on a waiting list.

The proposal has been published by the Scottish Government at the start of a consultation period leading to a new Patients Rights Bill.

The 12-week period would begin when a patient is referred to hospital for specialist treatment.

The government said it was also considering a "no fault" compensation scheme for the health service.

The legislation on waiting times would be in addition to a target of specialist treatment being delivered within 18 months of a patient visiting a GP.

That will come into effect in three year's time.

Patients responsibilities

The government has also proposed that every NHS Heath Board will have an independent Patient Rights Officer.

The plans also includes the introduction of clearly defined systems of feedback and redress.

In addition, the government has said that patients will have their responsibilities outlined more clearly.

They will, for example, be expected to attend agreed appointments.

The Patients Rights Bill will be an important piece of healthcare legislation. It will put patients firmly in the driving seat.
Nicola Sturgeon
Scottish health secretary

The government has launched a period of consultation on the proposals.

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon has identified the waiting time guarantee as the central part of the plan.

"This will ensure that patients know what their maximum wait will be, providing assurances in what can be a time of anxiety, worry and stress," she said.

Flexible care

Some aspects of the government's proposals have been criticised by opposition politicians.

Labour's health spokeswoman, Cathy Jamieson, said: "Labour believes that government policy should focus on improving treatment for patients, not creating more work for lawyers."

For the Conservatives, Jackson Carlaw also expressed doubts.

"The government should be looking to all sectors - public, voluntary, independent and private - to build a more flexible and pluralistic system of health care.

"Unfortunately it is not," he said.

Consultation on the government's plan will continue until January.

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