Number of people waiting 18 weeks or more for surgery could double by 2020

The number of patients waiting more than 18 weeks for planned surgery could double by 2020, analysis of NHS England figures by the NHS Partners Network (NHSPN) has today warned.

After looking at the data, NHSPN forecast that on current trends, the number of people waiting more than 18 weeks for surgery would more than double, going up from 360,000 today to over 800,000 people.

NHSPN urged people to exercise their legal right to choose what hospital provides their care, whether it’s in the independent or public sector.

Though the NHS Choice Framework states that patients have the legal right to choose where they receive treatment, NHS England figures show that only 47% of people are aware of this right, meaning that thousands of patients are potentially missing out on opportunities to be treated more quickly.

Today’s news follows NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens admitting that some patients may face longer waiting times for non-urgent surgery in what was described as a ‘trade-off’ to ensure improvements to care was delivered in other areas.

Health organisations have been particularly vocal in urging the government to act to lessen growing waiting times in different parts of the NHS, as patients were having to wait so long in A&Es that corridors had become “the new emergency wards”.

David Hare, chief executive of the NHSPN, said: “As NHS England’s Five Year Forward View Next Steps document highlights, the NHS is currently under significant pressure and is desperately short of elective capacity.”

He added that due to the NHS relaxing its commitment to treating NHS patients within 18 weeks, it was vital that patients were aware of their right to choose which provider they are treated by in order to ensure that they can access treatment more quickly.

“This includes independent sector providers who, on average, treat NHS patients six days earlier compared to NHS providers and offer services to patients paid for at NHS prices, to NHS standards and free at the point-of-use,” Hare added.

“Unless action is taken, patients will face unacceptably long waits for treatment which not only leaves them in pain for longer than required, but could also lead to medical complications.”

The NHSPN executive concluded by calling on the government to make the public more aware of their rights when it came to treatment for surgery so that waiting times were reduced for more people.

An NHS England spokesperson said: “Since the early 2000s, we've more than doubled the number of NHS hip and knee operations, and expect yet further growth in non-urgent surgery over the next few years. 

“Most NHS operations are now done in well under 12 weeks, and patients will continue to be able to choose where their operation takes place.”

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