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The people living on the NHS waiting list

While trying to decipher the often overwhelming mass of data on waiting times in the NHS, it can be easy to forget that behind each statistic is a person living with the pain and anxiety of waiting.

For BBC Scotland’s Disclosure series, I went to meet some of those Living on the NHS List.

The 12-week treatment time guarantee

Liz Clarke is 74 and used to be a champion at line dancing.

She took me to a class she teaches in Killcreggan on the Argyll Coast.

I couldn’t help but love Liz and her class but she was having a tough night.

Liz needs a new hip and has been told she is facing an eight or nine-month wait instead of the 12-week guarantee.

She needs a stick and strong pain killers to get through the day.

She tells me: “I really do love life and you know you get hit with this, honestly, I would say, unbearable pain.

“If you’ve ever had toothache, it’s toothache 24 hours a day.

“And there are times when you feel near suicidal because of the pain.”

The Scottish government introduced the 12-week treatment time guarantee (TTG) in 2012.

Scotland is the only part of the UK where patients have a legal right to get treatment for inpatient or day care within that three-month period.

But it is a law that is regularly broken.

In total, more than 170,000 people have not had their treatment within the 12-week guarantee.

The 62-day cancer waiting time

I travelled to Aberdeen to meet Halinka Kerr.

She is in her 50s and runs a hair and beauty salon.

Last year she was referred to hospital for tests to rule out gallstones.

It turned out she had kidney cancer.

She waited more than 150 days for an operation to remove her kidney.

After the operation, Halinka was told she was cancer free but then doctors discovered it had spread to her bones and is now incurable.

She said: “When you’re told you’re cancer-free, it’s so emotional.

“And then you’re told by the afternoon that there’s more cancer? How can it be?

“I trusted them. They told me that it was contained. They would remove it, they would remove the kidney and it, that would be it. “

NHS Grampian has apologised for the delay in Halinka’s treatment.

She tries to keep positive and says it is pretty much all she can do.

But it can be hard, really hard.

There are two key targets for cancer.

One involves the overall time it takes from an urgent referral to start treatment, it should be no more than 62 days.

Within that, if cancer is diagnosed and a treatment agreed, you should wait no longer than 31 days for treatment to begin.

The NHS has met the 31-day target for the first time in two years but the wider 62-day target has not been met in six years.

18-week child and adolescent mental health target

Families are waiting longer and longer to access child and adolescent mental health services.

The key waiting time here is 18 weeks.

That is the maximum length of time people should wait to see a specialist after they are referred.

But a report published earlier this year by Audit Scotland showed that 4,012 children and young people waited longer than that to get help.

One of those children is eight-year-old Chloe from Kirkcaldy.

She has been on a CAMHS waiting list for more than a year.

I made a couple of visits to see Chloe and her mum, during which time she finally got her first appointment with a child mental health specialist.

Her mum, Liz, says while it is one step forward, they still don’t have a treatment plan.

She said: “At the moment we are stuck where we are and not moving forward at any speed, so we’re just in limbo, stuck.”

What is the plan?

Reducing NHS waiting times is a task that has eluded health secretary after health secretary.

But six months into the job and Jeane Freeman says long waits for treatment are simply “unacceptable” and she has a “plan”.

She says that within 30 months key waiting times targets will be met.

She has already given boards longer to financially plan and has written off any outstanding debts.

New centres will be built without emergency departments where only planned operations will take place.

In the meantime there will be work on innovative ways to speed up access to treatment.

All the while, the bigger ambition is to shift resources into the community so a hospital is somewhere you end up only when you need to be there.

It is ambitious in a climate where medics say they are stretched to the brink and warn without a massive investment in staff and resources, targets will be impossible to meet.

Jeane Freeman says she is listening and her door is open, but she has made a commitment to patients that by 2021 waiting times will be back on track.

Now she must wait and see if the plan works.

Disclosure: Life on the NHS List is on BBC One Scotland at 20:30 on Monday 3 December and on the iplayer.

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