latest health care news

02.06.17

RCS: Half-year waits for surgery triple in last four years

The number of patients waiting more than half a year for non-urgent surgery and treatment has soared by 180% in just four years, analysis by the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) has today stated.

In March this year, the number of patients waiting for treatment stood at 126,188, a huge increase compared to March 2013, when only 45,054 were waiting over six months for treatment.

The RCS said it is also announcing plans to regularly analyse six and nine month waits in the NHS to push political parties to take action and try and tackle rising waiting times for treatment.

However, when Simon Stevens launched his ‘Next Steps on the NHS FYFV’ document earlier this year, he admitted that some patients may face longer waiting times for non-urgent surgery, and no longer receive certain medications, as “trade-offs” so that improvements can be made to care in other areas.

In light of this and the new data, RCS said that it expects waiting times for surgery and other major treatments to continue rising in the next few years. This follows a similar warning by the NHS Partners Network who said the number of people waiting 18 weeks or more for surgery could double by 2020.

In different clinical areas, the RCS argued there were differences in waiting time increases. Ear nose and throat treatments went up the most, by 256%, whilst general surgery waiting times went up by 146% and brain and spinal treatments saw a 145% rise.

“Thanks to the hard work of staff, the NHS is now treating more patients than ever before. Waiting times have come down a lot since 10 years ago and far fewer patients are waiting over a year for treatment,” Miss Clare Marx, president of the RCS, commented.

“However, over the last few years waits for treatment have begun to head in the wrong direction once again,” she added. “We are now struggling to meet the standards and timeliness of care that the public rightly expect.

Marx argued it was unacceptable for such a large number of patients to be waiting over half a year in pain and discomfort for treatment, something that outlined the “grim reality of the financial pressures facing the NHS”.

“With the 18-week target now being deprioritised, our concern is that we will see a fast deterioration in waiting times with tens of thousands of more patients waiting longer than six months for surgery,” she stated.

The RCS president also pointed out that as the Nuffield Trust think tank had said, none of the main political parties are promising increases in NHS funding which will meet the growing demands on the health system, and none are dealing with rising waiting times.

“We are keen to work with the next government and NHS England to look at how we can prevent patients waiting ever longer for their care,” Marx concluded. “We are seriously short of overnight bed capacity in the NHS and this is a significant reason behind why waiting times are creeping up.

“When pressures in emergency departments rise, patients waiting planned surgery can have their operations cancelled or delayed until more space becomes available.”

And an NHS England spokesperson said:"The NHS has cut the number of patients waiting more than a year for treatment by nearly 13,000 over the past five years, and spending on non-urgent surgery is continuing to rise.

“While the RCS understandably lobbies for more spending on surgeons, in the real world they aren’t the only call on constrained NHS funding, which also has to support extra investment in GP services, modern cancer treatments, and expanded mental health services."

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