Waiting times for treatment have 'considerably' reduced
Health boards in Scotland could save millions of pounds by handling the cost of knee and hip replacements more efficiently, a spending watchdog said.
Audit Scotland found that £2m could be saved just by stopping NHS boards from purchasing replacement hip and knee joints from different suppliers.
The price difference in joints was highlighted in a review of orthopaedic services across the NHS in Scotland.
It found some boards were paying more than double for implants.
Artificial hips can range in cost from an average £858 in Lothian to £1,832 in neighbouring Forth Valley.
The cost of knee implants varies from an average £1,166 at the Golden Jubilee hospital near Glasgow to £2,060 in the Western Isles.
'Scope' for savings
The report stated: "NHS boards can reduce the cost of implants and standardise training by minimising the different types of implants that are used and purchasing implants that provide best value-for-money based on cost and clinical effectiveness."
NHS National Procurement estimates that £2m would be saved annually if boards standardised hip and knee implant purchases, the report added.
The report also found that waiting times reduced "considerably" in recent years but said there was "scope" to make further savings and improvements.
These included moving inpatient care to day surgery, reducing the length of time patients stay in hospital and making changes to the way implants are bought.
Deputy Auditor General for Scotland, Caroline Gardner, said: "Back pain, hip problems and other orthopaedic conditions can seriously affect people's mobility and quality of life.
"Waiting times for hospital treatment have reduced considerably in recent years, and this is a very welcome achievement.
"However there remains much that the Scottish Government and NHS boards can do to help improve the efficiency and effectiveness of orthopaedic services and money could be saved by better use of resources."
The report said more than 95% of patients were now treated within 26 weeks of referral, compared to 66% in 2003.
Services cost more than £370m last year and funding increased by 68% in a decade. The number of consultants increased by half, the report found.
Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said: "An increasing number of people who need joint surgery have received the help that they need."
Liberal Democrat health spokesman Ross Finnie said NHS staff should be praised for their work.
He added: "However, the Scottish Government must tackle the postcode lottery that still exists, given the variation in orthopaedic services across Scotland so all patients receive fair and punctual treatment."