The number of Scottish patients giving up on long NHS waiting lists and paying for private treatment instead is rising dramatically, figures have shown.
Statistics from four of the nation’s 14 health boards show that there has been a 46 per cent rise in people being taken off NHS waiting lists after going private.
The figures, obtained by Scottish Labour through Freedom of Information requests, relate to NHS Ayrshire & Arran, NHS Borders, NHS Grampian and NHS Highland.
In 2019-20, before the Covid pandemic took hold, a total of 1,821 patients were removed from waiting lists at the four boards after deciding to have their treatment privately instead. In 2022-23 the figure stood at 2,669, an increase of 46.5 per cent.
The figures were revealed by Labour leader Anas Sarwar during First Minister’s Questions, where he accused Humza Yousaf of creating a “two-tier” health service.
Separate data from the Private Healthcare Information Network published last week showed that 19,000 Scottish patients chose to pay for treatment in 2022, up from only 11,000 in 2019.
Public Health Scotland statistics released this week also showed that as of the end of March, 6,985 patients were waiting more than two years for an outpatient appointment, despite the Scottish Government’s target of treatment beginning within 12 weeks.
Mr Sarwar told the MSPs: “As Health Secretary, Humza Yousaf said he would have eradicated two-year waits by now, and he has patently failed.
“Grieving families will see through these excuses. But this isn’t even the full picture, according to FoI responses, thousands of people are forced to leave the NHS and pay for their treatment in the middle of a cost of living crisis.
“Our NHS was built on the principle of healthcare free at the point of need, and that is clearly no longer the case for thousands in Scotland.
“Does the First Minister accept that his incompetence has created a two-tier NHS, where people are forced to either go into debt in order to stop the pain and get treatment they need, or to languish on an NHS waiting list?”
Mr Yousaf replied: “No, I don’t agree to Anas Sarwar’s characterisation.”
He said the pandemic had exacerbated existing NHS issues, but that progress was being made, with outpatient two-year waits declining by 19 per cent compared to the last quarter.
“I don’t want a single person having to wait longer than they have to,” he added.
“I apologise of course to anybody who is waiting unnecessarily on a waiting list for treatment… we know waiting on a waiting list can have significant and severe consequences.”