NHS Not Meeting Recommended Waiting Times
Last week it was reported that an increasing number of patients are not receiving diagnostic tests within the NHS’s recommended waiting times.
The tests, which include x-rays, ultrasounds, colonoscopies and sigmoidoscopies, amongst others, are all aimed at detecting disease, disorder and injury, and if not carried out swiftly could significantly impact on the patient’s prognosis. This is particularly true when considering tests that allow for the detection of cancer or heart problems.
David Cameron and the health secretary, Andrew Lansley, have repeatedly pledged to keep all NHS waiting times low, despite the service facing rising demand and a financial squeeze. Data released by the Department of Health (DH) last week showed that at the end of August 2011 11,400 patients had been waiting longer than six weeks for one of the key diagnostic tests. This figure being up by 700 from the previous month and, notably, by 5,500 on the same month last year.
Some 11,119 people had been waiting more than six weeks for a diagnostic test at an NHS hospital, compared with 5,795 a year ago – an increase of 92%. (The 281 others of the 11,400 were waiting to have an NHS-funded test at a private clinic.) In addition, those waiting more than 13 weeks for such a test is 1,272 compared with 198 a year ago – a sixfold rise. Overall, 2.1% of people are waiting more than six weeks, compared with 1.1% a year ago.
The biggest rises came in the numbers of those waiting for colonoscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy and urodynamics, in which 8.2%, 6.7% and 6.7% of patients respectively were waiting more than six weeks. A year ago only 3% of colonoscopy patients waited six weeks or more for their test, 1.9% of flexi-sig, and 4.0% of urodynamics.
The British Medical Association said longer waits would be difficult for patients. “It is concerning that there have been a noticeable increase in the number of patients waiting beyond the recommended six weeks for a diagnostic test. Longer waiting times cause stress for the patient concerned and have knock-on effects for wider clinical care in the NHS,” said a spokesman for the doctors’ union.
He added: “The government’s demand for £20bn-worth of efficiency savings are presenting an enormous challenge to all areas of the NHS. Managers must work closely with healthcare professionals to produce innovative ways of maintaining high quality care while delivering services efficiently.”
John Healey, the shadow health secretary, said: “This is yet more evidence that patients suffering long waiting times for tests for cancer and other serious conditions is continuing to double under David Cameron. Even more worryingly, the number of people still waiting at 13 weeks is once again up by six times what it was a year ago.”
The DH insisted that diagnostic waiting times remain stable and said the figures were skewed by the poor performance of a handful of hospital trusts. “This increase needs to be seen in context, including the rising pressures on the NHS. Of the patients waiting at the end of August 2011, 98% had been waiting under six weeks, and the average [median] waiting time was just 2.0 weeks. Waiting times are stable, despite rising demand,” said a spokesman.
“We know that there are about five trusts responsible for around a third of all over six-week waits. We are currently discussing performance with [NHS regional] strategic health authorities to ensure that action is being taken to reduce these waits quickly.”
Of the patients waiting at the end of August 2011, 98.0% had been waiting less than six weeks, compared with 98.2% in July 2011, and 98.9% in August 2010, the DH said.
Prime Endoscopy Bristol is a community provider offering local access to endoscopy services