Website for patient waiting times virtually useless

Patients are being given out of date information by a flagship government scheme designed to reduce waiting times for hospital treatment.

The new website — unveiled by Malcolm Chisholm, the health minister, was meant to allow patients to choose a clinic with the shortest waiting time but contains information that is up to nine months old.

The leader of Scotland’s GPs condemned the figures as “virtually useless” and patients’ groups described the initiative as “flawed”.

The database should provide the latest waiting times for first outpatient appointments at 3,030 clinics across Scotland. Until now the information had been available only to GPs.

Speaking at the website’s launch, Chisholm said: “This database is good news for patients and will support patient choice.”

However, detailed examination of the information has revealed that waiting times for more than 260 clinics are at least three months out of date.

The figures for outpatient clinics across Fife were last updated at the beginning of July. In Lanarkshire and Glasgow waiting times for more than 100 clinics dated back to February. Two clinics in Lanarkshire even listed waiting times for January. And most hospital waiting times were for early October.

Dr David Love, joint chairman of the British Medical Association’s Scottish GP’s committee, said information dating back several months was “virtually useless”.

He said: “It is a good idea and could be quite useful if patients do their homework before coming to the GP, but the whole thing hinges on the information being accurate. If it is not, it could create more work.”

Margaret Davidson, chief executive of the Scotland Patients’ Association, added: “This website is flawed. The figures have to be up to date for them to be any use.

“Questions also have to be asked as to whether patients will be treated at the hospitals they choose. I don’t think they will.”

Dr Ian Johnston, a member of the local GPs’ committee in East Lothian and a family doctor in Musselburgh, said waiting times should be no more than six weeks old if they were to be of any use. “There is no point in having something on a website that was done in February,” he added.

The launch of the website has been used by opposition politicians to highlight long waiting times of up to 2½ years. According to the target set by the executive, by the end of 2005 nobody should have to wait more than six months for a first outpatient appointment.

A spokeswoman for the executive said the Information and Statistics Division (ISD) of the NHS was responsible for the website. She added that most of the waiting times were up to date.

The ISD admitted that it had decided to launch the website even though some data was many months old. A spokesman said the out-of-date waiting times were the result of old data collection systems which were being modernised.

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