NHS crisis: 440,000 people are waiting longer than 18 weeks for crucial operations

Sunday Express - 18 Mar 2018

More than 440,000 people have languished beyond 18 weeks waiting for vital surgery in breach of government targets, figures reveal. The NHS says all patients have the right to start treatment within 18 weeks of a GP referral.

But the figures released in response to a parliamentary question from Labour MP and former social security minister Frank Field show hundreds of thousands of cases have now slipped beyond that guideline.

Patients are most likely to wait for eye or “trauma and orthopaedic” operations, with 44,242 and 64,039 respectively in the queue for more than 18 weeks.

Mr Field said: “Not surprisingly, the postponement or cancellation of treatment formed a major part of the coping strategy that large numbers of hospitals used during the winter months.

“But there are many seriously ill people who are suffering and will continue to do so as a result of this strategy. “The job of easing this must be at the top of each hospital manager’s in box.”

The figures come ahead of a new series of BBC Two’s documentary Hospital, highlighting winter pressures inside Nottingham Queen’s Medical Centre and City Hospital.

The series, beginning on March 26, shows ever-increasing demands on services, from the longest A&E waiting times on record to the decision in January to cancel all routine operations.

The programme reveals that across the health trust there are the equivalent of four full wards of patients fit enough to be discharged, but needing supported care in the community.

One, Mavis, 86, was admitted after a fall, but because of her dementia she can only be looked after by certain nursing homes. She ended up stuck in hospital for four weeks.

Kelian, 12, had his operation for scoliosis, a severe curvature of the spine, cancelled in the winter crisis and has been waiting 47 weeks for surgery.

A separate study by think tank The King’s Fund found that in January the number of patients delayed more than four hours after a decision to admit them to hospital from A&E rose to 81,003, with 1,043 waiting more than 12 hours – both the highest on record.

King’s Fund policy director Richard Murray said: “Waiting time targets are failing some of the patients most in need of emergency care.”

The Department of Health and Social Care said: “The Government remains fully committed to waiting time standards, which is why we’re supporting the NHS to improve performance in the face of growing demand with an extra £2.8billion to help hospitals see and treat hundreds of thousands more patients.”

Lucy Johnston, Sunday Express