Paediatricians publish ‘Worried and Waiting: A Review of Paediatric Waiting Times in Scotland’

Paediatricians in Scotland are calling for urgent and bold action to improve waiting times after a new report shows increasing demand and long waits for children and young people.
View from atop a hill at sunset

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) have published the report ‘Worried and Waiting: A Review of Paediatric Waiting Times in Scotland.  The crucial report looks at waiting times data from October 2012 to September 2023 and places a spotlight on paediatric waiting times in Scotland.

The challenges facing children and young people while on paediatric waiting lists are significant. Long waits for care are particularly harmful for children and young people as they can impair their mental, physical and social development as well as educational outcomes at a critical time of life. 

Scottish paediatricians report that over the past 11 years, pressures on services and staff have greatly increased and this has resulted in a greater number of children and young people waiting for longer periods. For example, in October 2012, the total number of paediatric waits (excluding surgical, ENT, CAMHS and cardiology services) was 4,898. By September 2023 this had increased to 10,512 - a 114.6% increase, despite only a very small population growth.

The standard waiting times target for Scotland states that 95% of new outpatients should wait no longer than 12 weeks from referral stage to the point of being seen. In October 2012, the percentage of patients across Scotland waiting over the 12 weeks target were 1% of total waits. By September 2023 the percentage of patients waiting over 12 weeks had increased to 48.9%. 

RCPCH Scotland consulted with our members, children and young people to find out their thoughts on paediatric waiting times and to devise the following recommendations that we believe will make significant improvements for children and young people:

  1. The Child Health Workforce – A full review of the child health workforce must be carried out to ensure it is sufficiently resourced and funded to tackle waiting times.
  2. Data Collection – Improvement in the collection and utilisation of child health data.
  3. Access to Services – Improved access to and funding of primary care and cross-sector community-based services, resources and advice for children, young people and families to support their health and wellbeing.

RCPCH Officer for Scotland, Dr Mairi Stark, said:

An 114% increase in outpatient waiting times over the past 11 years signifies a clear failure to prioritise the health and wellbeing of our children. Lengthy waits are unacceptable for any patient, but for children and young people the waits can be catastrophic, as many treatments need to be given by a specific age or developmental stage. It is not the same as for adults: if you miss the right window to treat a child or wait too long the consequences can be irreversible. 

What’s more, the shocking data in this report is just the very tip of the iceberg. We know that there are exceptionally long waits for other services children and young people access, such as surgical, mental health and ear, nose and throat (ENT) services. Paediatric services need to match the existing need, and enhanced data collection can be a key tool to understanding where the backlogs are and how to direct resource.  

We need to give the child health workforce the support it needs to care for the children and young people of Scotland. We urge the Government heed our advice and implement our recommendations. Only by tackling long waiting times can we provide the appropriate, holistic care that children need. Healthy children grow up to be healthy adults, so the time to act is now.

Michelle Wilson, Head of Children and Young People’s Health and Wellbeing Services at Children's Health Scotland, said:

Children’s Health Scotland (CHS) are very pleased to support RCPCH Scotland in the publication of their report Worried and Waiting: A Review of Paediatric Waiting Times in Scotland. It highlights what children, young people and those that love and care for them have also been telling CHS: “Waiting for appointments takes too long”.

The report not only highlights issues of concern but carries strong recommendations that will help Scotland realise its Promise to all our children – in order that they feel loved, safe and respected and have the opportunity to be the best they can be. Thus, on the eve of the incorporation of the UNCRC into Law in Scotland in July 2024, we can truly say that Every Child has the right to the best possible health.