Waiting times for rheumatology appointments in Scotland are the longest in eight years

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Dean Samways
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Waiting times for rheumatology appointments in Scotland are the longest in eight years

The average waiting times for rheumatology appointments in Scotland are the longest in eight years, according to new figures released today.

Statistics show waiting times in rheumatology have steadily got worse since 2010. The average waiting times for an outpatient appointment have increased from 49 days in 2010 to 79 days in 2018, an increase of 60%.

The report by the British Society for Rheumatology and the Scottish Society for Rheumatology reveals people with conditions such as arthritis are experiencing long waiting times which fall outside of recommended guidelines.

The Scottish Government set a target that 90% of people should wait four weeks from referral to their first out-patient appointment. Yet only half of people are seen within this target.

Demand for appointments is significantly higher than a decade ago. In 2016/17 there were 114,588 attended rheumatology outpatient appointments compared to only 84,766 in 2015/16.

The report called Rheumatology in Scotland: The State of Play is the largest and most comprehensive study of its kind. It provides a complete picture of rheumatology services in Scotland including treatments, diagnostics and workforce recruitment. It covers all musculoskeletal conditions that affect the joints, bones and muscles, and also includes rarer autoimmune diseases and back pain.

Other key findings from the report include:

  • Over 90% of Scottish health professionals working in rheumatology units considered their service to not be sufficiently staffed
  • Whilst numbers of consultants have improved, the vacancy rates of consultants are high at 12% with eight vacancies, three of which have been vacant for over six months. It has been reported that most advertised posts in the last 12 months have received no applicants
  • It was predicted in 2010 that the number of adults with rheumatoid arthritis in Scotland would rise from 37,539 in 2010 to 42,505 by 2020. However, that prediction has already been overtaken in 2018 with 44,000 individuals having a diagnosis.
  • Health professionals in rheumatology are working to address these challenges, reduce the burden on doctors and ultimately improve patient care, but need help and support from service providers.

Dr Elizabeth Price, President of British Society for Rheumatology, said: “These delays are a huge concern as we know that prompt access to treatment and support can make a real difference to long-term outcomes.

“Rheumatoid arthritis is one of the major chronic diseases in Scotland. After the onset of symptoms there is a 12-week window when a referral to a rheumatologist can dramatically reduce symptoms. Lack of action risks leading to long-term disability and can have a damaging impact on lives.”

The Scottish Society for Rheumatology’s president elect, Dr Anne McEntegart, said: “Our latest report reminds us that there is still much more work to be done to ensure patients with all musculoskeletal conditions receive the best possible treatment, care and support.

“We know that departments are under increasing pressure and whilst key challenges remain in rheumatology, there is much work ongoing to help tackle these issues. Our report sets out a number of recommendations and examples of good practice where improvements can be made.”

Brian Whittle MSP, Convenor of The Scottish Parliament’s Cross Party Group on Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Conditions, said: “This report highlights the continuing challenges faced by rheumatology departments across Scotland. Despite the hard work and dedication of NHS staff throughout Scotland, it’s clear that more needs to be done if we want to deliver a high quality, sustainable level of care. Initiatives like Stobhill hospital’s new training scheme to increase the number of nurses trained to support rheumatology patients, are a great first step towards that. Reports like this play an important role in identifying issues of concern and examples of innovation that can aid policy makers in delivering better care for patients.”

To view the Rheumatology in Scotland: The State of Play report, visit the Reports section of our website.

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