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Extra cash to slash waiting times at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness

By Gregor White

Raigmore Hospital is to receive more cash to help address waiting times difficulties.
Raigmore Hospital is to receive more cash to help address waiting times difficulties.

NHS Highland has been given a major funding boost to improve waiting times which have been among the worst in Scotland for some procedures.

The £2 million cash injection includes £1.2 million to install another Vanguard mobile operating theatre at the city’s Raigmore Hospital to help it meet national 12-week treatment time guarantees.

New NHS Highland chief executive Iain Stewart will tell the board at a meeting on Tuesday that they are also getting £843,000 to reduce waiting times in specific specialities including ophthalmology (eye cataracts), general surgery and endoscopy.

In further good news, it has also been revealed this week that a cure may at last have been found for the problem of selfish motorists taking advantage of free parking at Raigmore Hospital.

A new system based on number plate recognition is being considered, as long as the cash for it can be found.

The waiting times money from the Scottish Government’s health and social care directorate comes after a series of dismal performances from NHS Highland.

Last year it was revealed that patients in the north were waiting up to twice as long for some treatments as they did in the previous three years.

One of the worst areas was in eye treatment where waiting times doubled from 12 weeks in 2015 to 24 in 2018, although the health board was making efforts to improve by expanding the out-patient clinic.

In 2017 NHS Highland acknowledged that the 12-week waiting time for routine orthopaedic surgery was not being met and there were also more than 1500 people waiting beyond 12 weeks for their first outpatient orthopaedic appointment.

In his report Mr Stewart says: “Extra work has been taking place in ophthalmology and general surgery which is expected to continue throughout March, with some additional ophthalmology work planned for April and May. In endoscopy we plan to recruit additional staff to increase capacity.

“The funding will mean a second portable Vanguard Unit at Raigmore, which will provide increased capacity for the hospital and help to reduce waiting times.”

He also reports that he had talks with John Connaghan, the Scottish Government health directorate’s director of performance and delivery, earlier this month and suggests that he is “confident” even more funding will be provided in the future.

Reacting to the news, Highlands and Islands Conservative MSP Edward Mountain said: “I welcome every penny that this Scottish Government puts into complying with the waiting times targets they have set and have miserably failed to achieve.

“For too long, Highlanders have had to endure excessive waiting times that exceed other areas in Scotland. I hope this extra funding will be enough but I suspect further help will be required.”

Separately, Mr Stewart has confirmed plans for a new parking system based on number plate recognition could be in place at Raigmore Hospital by the summer, subject to a further funding boost.

It has long been claimed that hospital staff, patients and visitors have been squeezed out in the car park by drivers looking for a cheap alternative to city centre parking.

NHS Highland’s own endowment committee provided £558,000 towards the cost of implementing a new parking system last year, but Mr Stewart said a rise in costs since then had left them £40,000 adrift.

“We are going back to the endowment committee in about three weeks and hopefully will get the money then,” he said.

Mr Mountain has long campaigned on the issue, and said: “I’m delighted to hear from NHS Highland that the campaign to get more controlled parking at Raigmore that benefits patients and staff is going ahead.”

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