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22.03.19

Lack of progress around growing waiting list could fuel surge in negligence claims against the NHS

A rise in negligence claims against the NHS has been predicted by the government’s spending watchdog as it warns that “insufficient progress” has been made cutting down waiting times.

The National Audit Office (NAO) has criticised record NHS waiting times, with 44% of trusts missing non-urgent care targets, and said that “significant investment” of £700m is required to clear the backlog in elective care alone.

More than 4.2 million patients are now on a waiting list for surgery, a 55% rise over the last five years, whilst the number of patients waiting more than 18 weeks for operations has tripled.

The NAO said that two out of five compensation claims were a result of delays in treatment or diagnosis, and warned that this could rise substantially if patients continue to be left on ever-growing waiting lists.

The report said: “Given that 40% of clinical negligence claims are brought because of delays in diagnosis or treatment, there is a risk that longer waiting times may lead to an increasing number of future claims.”

It said that a one-off investment of £700m would be required to cut the waiting list back down to the same levels as March 2018, a target the NHS wanted to achieve by this month, but in the most recent count there were 1.36 million more cases than in March last year.

The NAO recommended that NHS England and NHS Improvement carry out a significant review to “better understand the impact of waiting times on patients’ experiences, patients’ outcomes and urgent services.”

Amyas Morse, the head of the NAO, said that despite positive efforts to increase the number of urgent cancer referrals, “there has been insufficient progress on tackling or understanding the reasons behind the increasing number of patients now waiting longer for non-urgent care.”

“With rising demand for care as well as constraints in capacity, it is hard to see how the NHS will be able to turn around this position without significant investment in additional staffing and infrastructure.”

Earlier this month, the NHS unveiled plans to replace its key waiting time targets and trial new “rapid care measures” prioritising the most urgent cases and introducing an average time measurement for treating patients.

With key NHS targets being repeatedly missed, some NHS chiefs criticised the plans claiming that NHS England was trying to abandon plans simply because it can no longer meet them.

Image credit -  Peter Byrne/PA Wire/PA Images

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