Dozens of Scottish patients are travelling to Lithuania for private healthcare because they cannot face long waits on the NHS, an investigation has found.
The BBC probe found that 10 patients per month were travelling to a clinic in Kaunas, with hundreds more turning to the private sector at home, for routine procedures they would otherwise face waiting more than a year for.
There are currently 625,000 patients on waiting lists in Scotland, the highest figure on record, and equivalent to one person in nine of the general population.
Despite Humza Yousaf, the Health Secretary running to become First Minister, pledging to end long waits as part of his NHS recovery plan, lists have continued to spiral, according to an independent Audit Scotland report last month.
A poll commissioned by BBC Scotland found that more than one in five adults said they or a member of their family had paid for private healthcare in the previous 12 months.
The documentary also reported that some children are waiting up to three times longer for spinal surgery than pre-pandemic, with nursing shortages a major factor.
‘Lays bare Humza Yousaf’s inept stewardship’
“These figures are a shameful reflection of the SNP’s mismanagement of Scotland’s NHS,” Sandesh Gulhane, health spokesman for the Scottish Tories, said.
“The fact that so many people feel compelled to pay for private treatment – when in many cases they can scarcely afford it – should shame ministers who have failed to properly resource our health service.
“This lays bare Humza Yousaf’s inept stewardship, but also the dire workforce planning of successive SNP health secretaries, over the last 16 years, which has left our health service desperately short of the frontline medical staff required to meet patient demand.”
Of those who the poll found had used the private sector for treatment, 73 per cent said they would have preferred to use the NHS.
Linda Fyfe, from South Ayrshire, was among those to travel to Lithuania for a hip replacement she was told she would have to wait between 12 and 18 months for on the NHS.
She and others have travelled to Eastern Europe as it is cheaper to get procedures there than privately in the UK.
While the SNP has said it will not introduce further charging in the NHS, 62 per cent said they would back the introduction of a £10 fee for those who missed GP appointments. Just 24 per cent were opposed to the idea, the poll found.
Mr Yousaf said: “I don’t want anybody to look at any options other than the NHS. I am committed to make a significant dent into the backlog but I’ve also got to be really upfront that it will take time.”