NHS Waiting Times at Three-Year High in England

Surgeons are raising the alarm over UK treatment waiting times, the NHS has been given warning regarding these waiting times, and an independent health think tank the “Kings Fund” indicates waiting times are at a 3-year high.

Statistics for February show us that 15% of patients have waited more than 18 weeks for treatment. This is the longest recorded waiting time since April 2008, but is not necessarily all a bad thing. The easing of targets allows hospitals more freedom to make decisions on clinical needs, but by the same token waiting standards should not be let slip too far.

The National Health Service has tried to bring this to light; that these figures include some patients who have voluntarily delayed their own treatment times, and that the real percentage should look more like 10.2% of patients awaiting treatment.

The Kings Fund is arguing however, that the figures are due to Government financial reforms and pressures on the NHS. David Cameron’s top down shake-up of the NHS has distracted front-line staff and that the strain of this is now showing.

In England, the National Health Service quantifies waiting for hospital treatment from the date written on the General Practitioners letter requesting that their patient be seen and any necessary treatment commenced.

According to the NHS constitution, the “waiting standard” is 18 weeks, which is the maximum time period before the patient should receive treatment, and while the health service still collects all the data, the government is no longer “performance managing” the waiting standard. This indicates that the health service is no longer operating in the same climate, which might also mean waiting standards may get worse in the future.

Surgeons have recently expressed their concerns with the introduction of new thresholds for hip and knee replacements, and GPs have been asked to hold back on referring patients to hospitals. Hip and knee replacements are relatively routine procedures which have been put on hold for more months than is actually necessary.

They also don’t appear in the statistics for official waiting times, as localised limitations take place prior to entry into the paper trail “waiting standard” system. Patients who need to wait longer while in pain, may not have as good an expected outcome post-operatively.

There were also worries expressed that for example hip and knee replacements were targeted as a means of finding savings as part of the drive for £20 billion efficiency savings by the NHS for 2015.

Despite the Kings Fund analysis, cancer patients are still being seen by specialists quickly and cases of MRSA as well as Clostridium difficile (C diff) have continued to drop. These hospital infections are generally a good benchmark for hospital performance per se.

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Lachlan Mellings
12/08/2020
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