NHS waiting lists continue to rise

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NHS waiting lists continue to rise

15th July 2011

Latest NHS figures reveal that the number of patients waiting for longer than the recommended 18-week referral to treatment (RTT) target for operations has soared in the last 12 months.

Figures released this week showed that 90.8% of the 300,000 patients who were seen last May were within the timeframe, compared with 92.9% in the same month last year. A total of 27,834 patients in England who received inpatient treatment in May 2011 had waited longer than the 18 week time-frame, compared to 20,504 in May 2010 - a year-on-year rise of 33.5%.

Medical negligence expert, Jacqui Hayat of Fentons Solicitors LLP said: “These figures are yet more evidence that the NHS is undoubtedly struggling to cope. There is huge pressure building behind the scenes due to a combination of cost cutting measures and rising demand. Around a third of the country is failing to meet the 90% target with the national figure remaining artificially high simply due to it being propped up by other places that are over-performing.”

A survey conducted by the independent think tank the King's Fund suggests a quarter of NHS finance directors in England think the current round of cuts will have a significant impact on overall patient care.

“Cuts will crucially mean fewer resources for patients meaning standards of patient care across the service are bound to suffer as a result,” said Jacqui, a partner with the firm. “Of the 2.5m still awaiting treatment, there are nearly 225,000 patients who have been waiting more than 18 weeks for treatment - up by 8% from last year. The more these figures rise, the harder it will be for hospitals and their staff to turn the situation around and stem the bleeding as it were. This is of huge concern.”

In a pledge reiterated last month in an attempt to calm growing fears about the government's controversial NHS reform programme, David Cameron personally promised that the 18 week RTT target would be upheld. The health service has been told it should see 90% of patients within the time-frame with the remaining 10% leeway permitted to allow for patients who may have to wait longer for specific personal or medical reasons.

“Overall the NHS is still managing to hit its 18-week deadline,” said Jacqui. “However, it is worryingly unacceptable that over 50 other hospital trusts are still failing to meet the waiting time standards. In addition, performance is continuing to drop in several areas. Orthopaedics for example, providing hip and knee replacements are facing mounting difficulties with nearly one in seven patients having to wait longer than 18 weeks for their operations.

“In such a brutally unsparing financial climate,” added Jacqui, “with more patients then ever before in the health system and demand showing no sign of abating, everything must be done to ensure standards of patient care are not compromised and the resources and support are there for the incredible work the thousands of NHS staff are doing in the face of such momentous reforms.”

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Read more: BBC