NHS Health Check: Hospital op 'long waiters' rise by 163%

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Media captionWhy Peter had to get used to waiting

The number of people facing "long waits" for hospital treatment in England has more than doubled in the past four years, figures show.

Patients needing routine care such as knee and hip replacements are meant to be treated in 18 weeks under NHS rules.

But the numbers waiting longer than that now top 350,000 - a 163% rise since 2012. There are 3.7 million people in total on the waiting list.

The government promised the NHS would do "better in the future".

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have also seen pressures grow - meaning no part of the UK is now meeting its target to see patients.

Royal College of Surgeons president Clare Marx said the picture was "very disappointing" as these operations and treatments could make a huge difference to people's lives.

"Someone waiting for a gall-stone removal will be in a lot of pain and discomfort.

"The longer you wait for a hip or knee replacement the less likely you are to have good outcomes. These waits really matter.

"The standards of care are being eroded and we don't want it to get worse."

But Richard Murray, from the King's Fund think tank, predicts the numbers on the waiting list will keep rising.

The total of 3.7m is a 44% increase since 2012, but he expects to see the trend continue and break through the four million barrier by the spring.

"If you go back 15 years waiting lists were longer, but it is now heading in the wrong direction."

One of those affected has been Nikki Alldis, who lives in the South East.

She has been waiting 15 months for a bowel operation. It has twice been cancelled.

She said the wait had been very difficult and she was "gutted" the last time it was put off in January. "It's hanging over me."

How 'long waiters' have risen since 2012

England: Up 163%

Northern Ireland: Up 95%

Scotland: Up 82%

Wales: Up 74%

The figures are the percentage rise in the number of waits over the target time for treatment in each nation

The latest figures cover the month of November and mean the target for the NHS - that at least 92% of patients on waiting lists will not have been waiting over 18 weeks - has been missed since February last year.

A Department of Health spokesman said the NHS was having to treat more patients - 5,000 extra a day compared with 2010 - so the levels of performance were actually a "tribute" to the work of NHS staff.

He said the investment being made in the NHS this Parliament would help "transform services" and mean the NHS will do "better in the future".

The targets for routine treatments are measured differently in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but all show a similar picture.

In Wales, 95% of patients are supposed to start treatment within 26 weeks. This target has not been met since August 2010 and the number of long waiters has risen by 74% to 60,643 in November 2016.

Scotland's target is for 90% of patients to start treatment within 18 weeks. This has been missed since June 2014. The number waiting longer than 18 weeks was up 82% over that period at 16,635.

Northern Ireland has a target of 55% per cent of patients waiting no more than 13 weeks for an operation. The number waiting longer than that was up 95% in the four years to September 2016.

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