The Patients Association released its fourth annual report on hospital waiting times for surgical procedures in England, revealing inconsistent reporting by Hospital Trusts, unacceptable waiting times and poor patient experiences.
The report, highlighted in the Guardian, reveals poor performance in the NHS, negative patient experiences and, once again, shows significant variations in waiting times across England, suggesting a postcode lottery when it comes to accessing healthcare. Long waiting times and cancelled operations continue to be an issue.
We found that standards of reporting of waiting time data are poor across all regions of the country. Just 54% of Trusts responded within the statutory time period to the Freedom of Information request and the South of England had the worst response rate, at only 49%. We also discovered that there is considerable confusion amongst all regions regarding the recording and reporting of waiting time data. Many Trusts provided data that was inconsistent, incorrect or missing entirely.
The report revealed that waiting times for key surgical procedures have not improved over the last four years. Waiting times for hernia, adenoid and tonsillectomy procedures have continued to rise across the country. Knee procedures continue to have the longest wait at 95 days; The figures also indicate that variations in waiting times exist across regions. The South of England region has the longest waiting times for cataract operations, with a mean average wait of 82 days, 13 days above the national average. London continues to have the longest wait for knee operations, with an average waiting time of 108 days.
Katherine Murphy, Chief Executive of the Patients Association, said, “Behind the facts and figures are real patients with real illnesses. Delays in surgery result in prolonged suffering for patients, especially older vulnerable people. Every extra day spent waiting for surgery is an extra day of pain and suffering.” “…Patients need to be able to see for themselves which hospitals are performing well and which are not. This can only be achieved if hospitals adhere to strict reporting standards, are transparent, regularly audited and present information in a meaningful way to patients.” To read our full report on 2014 waiting times, please click here.
Following on from our 2011 and 2012 reports, our 2013 report shows there to be a fall in the total number of procedures carried out and a noticeable increase in waiting times for elective surgeries. Having said this, some limited improvement has taken place in many of the Trusts who supplied us with data on their activity. However, this is no consolation for the patients who happen to live in the catchment areas of the worst performing Trusts, and renews our concerns that the “postcode lottery” that has plagued the delivery of NHS treatment continues to worsen. To read our full report on waiting times, please click here.
In April 2012, we published our report on waiting times following on from our 2011 report on cuts to the number of operations being carried out
We sent a Freedom of Information request to NHS Acute Trusts in England, asking them to provide waiting time figures in nine key areas -
In total waiting times increased by 6% in 2011 when compared to 2010 and a drop of 4.6% in the total number of operations carried out across the areas included in the survey. To read our full report on waiting times, please click here.
The Shadow Secretary of State for Health, Andy Burnham responded to the report saying, “This survey shows that the Prime Minister has not been straight with the public about waiting times in the NHS. After inheriting the lowest ever waiting times in 2010, it would now appear that the NHS has gone backwards for the second year in a row and that is clearly linked to his disastrous decision to reorganise the NHS at this time of financial challenge. David Cameron has made waiting times the central test of his stewardship of the NHS and, based on the emerging evidence, it is clear he is out of touch with the reality on the ground. He is failing patients and they are left waiting in pain and discomfort. With NHS hospitals given permission to treat more private patients, and the costs of reorganisation spiralling, this situation is only likely to get worse and we will hold the Prime Minister to account for it.”
Throughout 2010 and 2011 we were hearing from patients and healthcare professionals about cuts to services and longer waiting times for elective operations and other services
In March 2011, our survey of Trusts showed that there were 10,757 fewer surgical procedures carried out across 9 categories in 2010 than in 2009. This included 11% fewer Tonsillectomies, 6% fewer Knee replacements, 3% fewer Hip replacements and 51% fewer Bariatric procedures. Our research also showed that patients have to wait longer for some procedures with some patients waiting 8 days longer for Hip and Knee replacements, and 6 days longer for Hysterectomies. To read our report in full, click here. Our report received a huge amount of press coverage and was debated in the House of Commons by the Secretary of State for Health, Andrew Lansley and the Shadow Secretary of State for Health, John Healey.
Katherine Murphy, Chief Executive of the Patients Association responded to the Secretary of State for Health’s comments saying,
“Our figures speak for themselves. The information provided to us by 62 Trusts clearly shows a drop in the areas of activity we asked about. In a small number there were rises but the overall picture was clearly one of a drop.”
“The Department of Health has chosen to compare our calendar year figures with figures from a section of 2010. Those figures do not include November and December of last year, when we were hearing about these problems most frequently on our Helpline. This, coupled with the fact that only a third of Trusts were willing to let us have their figures for operations carried out, means that like for like is not being compared. Getting Trusts to comply with their legal obligations to provide information like this is a frequent challenge for organisations like ours that constantly strive to ensure that the voice of patients is heard.”
“We chose to ask about activity because we had heard from many sources that PCTs were trying to reduce the number of referrals being made, which would not be reflected in the waiting times. Your waiting time clock can’t start if you are not referred in the first place.”
“We asked about these procedures because medical and nursing professionals, as well as patients, told us that they had concerns about them. Patients are calling into our Helpline on a regular basis and telling us that they have been denied an operation on a painful hip and knee, or told that they need to wait until the new financial year in April. Professionals are also telling us services are being cut. These are real examples from the frontline that cannot be brushed aside with statistics.”
“Our figures, combined with the concerns that patients tell us, reports of a decline in pain management referrals and the worries about reductions in Elective surgery expressed by the President of the Royal College of Surgeons earlier this year, indicate a problem that the Department of Health can’t just sweep under the carpet.”
“It is likely that the usual postcode lottery of care is at play once again. Patients in different communities getting different treatment from their local NHS. It brings no comfort to patient being made to wait for an operation in one part of the country to find out that nationally the picture is rosier. Every patient deserves high quality care irrespective of where they live.”