‘A grim reality’: concern over longer waits for NHS operations

Patients are being left in pain and discomfort due to financial pressures facing NHS, says Royal College of Surgeons

An increasing number of patients are having to wait more than six months for an operation in hospital, official NHS figures show.

The number of people in England being forced to wait that long has almost trebled in the past four years, from 45,054 in March 2013 to 126,188 in March this year – a 180% rise.

Patients are, in theory, guaranteed to have a non-urgent procedure, such as a hernia repair, cataract removal or hip or knee replacement, within 18 weeks under the NHS constitution. Surgeons said delays of at least 26 weeks would lead to patients suffering for longer than they should, which could damage their quality of life and chances of recovering.

The figures are the latest evidence of how hospitals are increasingly failing to meet a range of treatment waiting time targets, including for A&E and cancer care, amid rising demand, widespread staff shortages and an unprecedented financial squeeze.

“We are now struggling to meet the standards and timeliness of care that the public rightly expect,” said Clare Marx, the president of the Royal College of Surgeons, which obtained the figures from analysing NHS England performance against the 18-week target.

“It is unacceptable for such a large number of patients to be waiting this long in pain and discomfort for treatment. This is the grim reality of the financial pressures facing the NHS,” Marx said.

“Many of these patients are older and, in the most serious cases such as for brain surgery, waiting longer could have a big effect on the quality of someone’s life and their eventual recovery from surgery.”

The figures show that the largest group who endure more than six-month waits for an operation are trauma and orthopaedic patients, many of whom have broken a bone. The number has almost doubled from 14,565 in 2013 to 25,544 over the four years studied.

For full article in The Guardian 1 June 2017