Long hospital waits 'on the increase'

Hospital equipment There has been an overall drop in the number of people waiting for hospital treatment

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The number of people facing "long waits" for hospital treatment in England is rising, NHS figures show.

Under the NHS Constitution, patients have a right to be seen in 18 weeks.

But there are currently 236,155 on the waiting list who have waited longer than that - a rise of 8.5% in a year, according to official data. Nearly half have waited more than six months.

The government said there could be valid medical or personal reasons for long waits.

However, doctors blamed the rise on the squeeze in budgets that is increasingly being seen in the health service.

The most common treatments people are facing long waits for is in orthopaedics, which includes operations such as knee and hip replacements.

Peter Kay, president of the British Orthopaedic Association and a former adviser to the Department of Health, said the sheer numbers waiting longer than 18 weeks meant it was unlikely to be solely for personal or medical reasons.

He said the focus of hospitals was now slipping and patients were being left waiting for too long.

And he added: "One of the issues with 18 weeks is that once you have missed the boat there is less incentive to get the patient treated. They get left on the list for longer than they otherwise would."

The waiting game

  • Some 2.47 million people are on hospital waiting lists - down from 2.51 million last April
  • Of those, 236,155 have been waiting for more than 18 weeks - up 8.5% in a year
  • Some 107,551 have been waiting for over six months. Nearly 13,500 have waited over a year.
  • Orthopaedics is the area of care that the most people are waiting for.
  • Nearly 50,000 have been waiting for this treatment for more than 18 weeks, of which 21,713 have been waiting over six months.

The rise in those waiting longer than 18 weeks has happened despite a small drop in the overall number of people on the waiting list.

The April data - the latest available - showed that 2.47 million were on waiting lists, down from 2.51 million in April 2010.

Waits of a year are even being seen. Nearly 13,500 patients have waited this long.

A spokesman for the Patients Association said the figures "back up what patients are telling us".

But a Department of Health spokesman said average waiting times were "stable" and the government was committed to keeping them low.

But he added: "There will always be some longer waits reported - including as a result of clinical decisions, patients missing appointments and patients exercising choice."

The spokesman also pointed out that overall hospitals were meeting the waiting time performance expected of them.

While all patients are entitled to treatment within 18 weeks under the NHS Constitution, hospitals are only expected to see 90% of inpatients and 95% of outpatients in that timeframe to reflect the fact that some patients are not seen for valid reasons.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    I had surgery in october 2010 - this was within 18 weeks of my first appointment. I now need more surgery - different problem - and this is scheduled for two weeks time. This is only eight weeks after seeing the consultant to be assessed.

    Both times I have been dealt with at a private clinic but funded by the NHS. I cannot fault my treatment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    my nan, 63 years old, paid tax all her life, needed a knee operation to enable her to walk. She was told she would have to wait over 7 months for the operation, in the end she had to pay £7000 to go private, money which she didn't have to spare. So after paying all that tax, for all those years, she gets nothing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    I work for the NHS and am also on the other side, awaiting treatment which has taken a while to sort. It's a combination of things but mostly I see a rise in the patients referred but Trusts having less money to treat the patients and a LOT of trivial paperwork that needs to be done that takes away time spent on patients. I still think the NHS is fantastic-more money please!

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Any increase in waiting times is of course unwelcome, but we all have to take our share of the pain in order to get the deficit down.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    I had to wait 5 years to get both my shoulder operations done and gave up and went private for the first one, as it took so long, and then almost went private for the other. The fact I was in pain and desperately needed them doing just led to endless come back in 4 or 6 months and we'll see how you are appointments. I don't see where the 18 weeks comes in. Mine was approx 3.5 years per shoulder.


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