More than half of patients suffering from chronic pain have been waiting longer than the target time for an appointment, new figures show.
Opposition MSPs branded the situation “completely unacceptable” after official statistics showed 2,402 people – 56.6% of those waiting for an appointment – have been on the list for more than 18 weeks.
Long waits in Scotland have forced patients to travel to England for treatment, the Tories and Labour said.
Figures showed by the end of September this year there were 4,245 patients waiting to be seen at a chronic pain clinic.
This does not include data from NHS Fife, as the coronavirus pandemic meant it was unable to provide information to Public Health Scotland.
The proportion of people waiting more than 18 weeks for an appointment has increased from just over a fifth (20.8%) at the end of September 2019 to 52.9% by the end of June 2020.
In the period July to September 1, some 1,283 patients were seen at a chronic pain clinic – a drop of 49.1% from the 2,523 who were seen in the same three months in 2019, with the fall “reflecting the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic”, Public Health Scotland said.
Conservative health spokesman Donald Cameron said “thousands of patients are lying in agony and have no idea when they will get vital treatment and operations”.
He added: “We have seen patients having to travel to England to deal with chronic pain and that is completely unacceptable.
“As we continue to get our health services up and running, the SNP need to make chronic pain a top priority and guarantee that patients will be seen as quickly as possible.”
The Tory MSP said Health Secretary Jeane Freeman must put forward a plan to tackle rising waiting times as a “matter of urgency”.
Labour health spokesman Monica Lennon was also critical of the Scottish Government.
She said: “Under the SNP, chronic pain patients in Scotland endured a waiting times crisis before coronavirus, and lockdown has exacerbated this.
“Too few patients are being treated and it is completely unacceptable that over half of all chronic pain patients are waiting over four months for a first appointment.
“Through my work as the co-convenor of the cross-party group on chronic pain I know that delayed treatment is causing misery to thousands of patients.
“Some people have attempted suicide because there is no relief from the pain and they have lost hope, despite begging the Scottish Government for help.”
The Labour MSP added: “Chronic pain services must be given greater priority and patients who have been forced to travel to England for vital injections should be reimbursed.
“The Health Secretary and the public health minister have been urged repeatedly to improve care for those living with chronic pain.
“A failure to act is unforgiveable.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We appreciate how difficult it has been for people who have had procedures or treatments postponed due to the pandemic, and for those with chronic pain whose quality of life is affected.
“The majority of chronic pain services were temporarily paused in March 2020 but started to resume in June 2020 as part of the planned remobilisation of services.
“We continue to work with the NHS and partners to implement the Covid-19 Recovery Framework for NHS Pain Management Services which was published on September 24.”
The spokesman added that the revised National Advisory Committee for Chronic Pain will convene in the new year, chaired by the deputy national clinical director Dr John Harden.
And he said in 2021 the Scottish Government will publish a new framework for chronic pain management that will update the current Scottish service model.
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