About this release

This quarterly release by Public Health Scotland relates to the number of patients waiting for one of eight key diagnostics tests and investigations and the time they have waited. The eight key tests and investigation are upper endoscopy, lower endoscopy (excl. colonoscopy), colonoscopy, cystoscopy, CT scan, MRI scan, barium studies and non-obstetric ultrasound.  

Main points

At 31 December 2021:

  • 141,262 patients were waiting to be seen for the eight key diagnostic tests, an increase of 12.5% (+15,705) from 30 September 2021 and 40% higher than at 31 December 2020. When comparing to pre-pandemic levels, the waiting list size is 59.8% higher than the 12-month average prior to the onset of the pandemic (Mar 19 – Feb 20).
  • Of those waiting for one of the eight key tests, 49.6% had been waiting six weeks or less (42 days), compared to 57.8% at 30 September 2021 and 55.9% at 31 December 2020. However, there is a notable difference across test types and Health Boards, ranging from 23.3% to 97.4% for an endoscopy and 34.9% to 100% for a radiology test.
  • 34,224 patients were waiting for an endoscopy, a decrease of 1.5% from 30 September 2021, but an increase of 8.2% from 31 December 2020 and 53.1% when compared to the 12-month average prior to the onset of the pandemic. Of those waiting, 33.4% had been waiting six weeks or less; lower than both the pre-pandemic average of 66.6% and 33.9% at 30 September 2021 but higher than 32.2% at 31 December 2020.
  • The percentage of patients who had been waiting over 52 weeks for an endoscopy increased slightly from 11.2% at 30 September 2021, to 13.0% (4,436 patients, +553) at 30 December 2021, which is markedly higher when compared to the 3.9% (1,236) reported at the same date the previous year.
Image caption Trend in the number of patients waiting and percentage of patients waiting six weeks or less at month-end, split by test type, NHSScotland, 31 March 2019 to 31 December 2021
Trend in the number of patients waiting and percentage of patients waiting 6 weeks or less at month end, split by test type, NHSScotland, 31 March 2019 to 31 December 2021

This dual axis trend chart shows the number of patients waiting for radiology and endoscopy, separately, and percentage of patients waiting six weeks or less for each of these as well as the 8 key tests combined, between 31 March 2019 and 31 December 2021. The chart shows that prior to the pandemic the number of patients waiting and the percentage of patients waiting six weeks or less for an endoscopy or radiology test was relatively stable. Since then, the number of patients waiting has generally increased, initially across both endoscopy and radiology, but more recently driven by accelerating growth in the radiology waiting list. Following the resumption of services in summer 2020, the percentage of patients waiting six weeks or less steadily improved. Then as the second wave of COVID-19 emerged over the winter and capacity for non-urgent care was reduced across many parts of the country, improvement in the performance measure slowed down and dipped, most noticeably, in January 2021. Since then, performance against the six-week standard was on an upward trend, reaching 64.1% at 31 May 2021, the highest rate observed since the start of the pandemic. The rate has since decreased again to 49.5% at 31 December 2021, as the total number waiting has grown.  It remains markedly down on the pre-pandemic average of 81.5% (March 2019 – February 2020).
  • 106,912 patients were waiting for a radiology test, an increase of 17.7% from 30 September 2021, 54.3% from 31 December 2020 and 61.8% when compared to the 12-month average prior to the onset of the pandemic. Of those waiting, 54.7% had been waiting six weeks or less; lower than the pre-pandemic average of 86.6%, 66.9% at 30 September 2021 and 66.7% at 31 December 2020.
  • The percentage of patients who had been waiting over 13 weeks for a radiology test has increased from 8.8% at 30 September 2021 to 15.8% (16,943 patients, +8,976) at 31 December 2021. This compares to 11.8% (8,181) waiting over 13 weeks at the same date the previous year. On average, only 1.8% of patients were waiting over 13 weeks in the 12 months prior to the pandemic.

Background

The services involved continue to be affected by COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic. In the early stages of the outbreak most non-urgent treatment was paused or reduced and there were fewer referrals to services. Since then services have been remobilising (external website) but capacity is constrained by the requirement for additional infection control measures. In addition, further waves of the virus have slowed the recovery of services due to the need to again pause or reduce services for reasons such as increased staff absence or the need to divert resources because of an increase in unscheduled hospitalisations.

Further background information on NHS Scotland Waiting Times, including diagnostics, can be found here – CEL 33 (2012) (external website).

Further information

For more information see the Waiting Times section of the Data and Intelligence website. PHS have developed an animation (external website), with further explanations of how waiting times are calculated.

The next release of this publication will be 31 May 2022.

NHS Performs

A selection of information from this publication is included in NHS Performs. NHS Performs is a website that brings together a range of information on how hospitals and NHS Boards within NHSScotland are performing.

General enquiries

If you have an enquiry relating to this publication, please contact phs.waitingtimes@phs.scot.

Media enquiries

If you have a media enquiry relating to this publication, please contact the Communications and Engagement team.

Requesting other formats and reporting issues

If you require publications or documents in other formats, please email phs.otherformats@phs.scot.

To report any issues with a publication, please email phs.generalpublications@phs.scot.

Older versions of this publication

Versions of this publication released before 16 March 2020 may be found on the Data and Intelligence, Health Protection Scotland or Improving Health websites.

Last updated: 07 October 2022
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