Page last updated at 16:17 GMT, Thursday, 18 March 2010

Legal guarantee to be given for treatment waiting times

Surgeons operating - generic
Patients will have a legally guaranteed waiting time for an operation

Patients will be legally guaranteed hospital treatment within 12 weeks under new legislation which has been unveiled by the Scottish government.

The Patient Rights (Scotland) Bill will also introduce a legal right to complain about treatment.

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said the bill aimed to improve patients' experience of using health services.

But nursing leaders warned additional bureaucracy could risk impacting on the quality of patient care.

The maximum waiting time of 12 weeks will begin when a patient is put on a waiting list and will apply to both day case and in-patient procedures.

If a hospital fails to comply, it will have to ensure treatment is given at the "next available opportunity" and provide an explanation to the patient for the delay.

It is difficult to see how this legislation will make any real difference to patients
Jackie Baillie
Labour health spokeswoman

Health boards will have a duty to direct patients who are unsatisfied with their treatment to the new Patient Advice and Support Service.

It will be staffed by patient rights officers, who will provide advice on how to lodge a complaint.

But Theresa Fyffe, director of the Royal College of Nursing Scotland, warned the new system could "skew" NHS resources towards delivering targets, to the detriment of quality patient care.

She said: "The principles of respect, dignity and equality are fundamental to nursing care but they simply cannot be legislated for."

Jackie Baillie, health spokeswoman for Labour, called on Ms Sturgeon to explain what would happen if hospitals failed to meet the waiting times guarantee.

She said: "It is difficult to see how this legislation will make any real difference to patients and it is a distraction from the NHS's most important task, which is treating patients quickly in a clean and safe environment."

Access to advice

Conservative public health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said the government's focus should be on patient outcomes rather than "centrally set" targets.

"Lawyers, rather than patients, look set to be the main beneficiaries of this bill," he added.

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Ross Finnie said it would be fairer to have patients' rights enshrined in the standards of care provided by the NHS and subject to audit on a regular basis.

However, Ms Sturgeon said the proposed legislation would ensure patients recognised their rights and had access to independent support and advice.

She said: "Putting patients' rights into law will send out a strong signal to patients, healthcare workers and NHS Scotland that patients should be at the heart of everything the health service does."

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