Tuesday, June 12, 2007

New figures expose queues for NHS operations

New Government figures have for the first time exposed the actual waiting times patients face across the North West and other NHS regions for hospital operations. They make very depressing reading. Much more progress is needed if we are to ensure that patients do not face long waits in accessing NHS care.

The official figures show that just under 50,000 patients in the North West began hospital treatment in March 2007. Details of how long more than 16,000 of them were waiting are given as “Not known”. Of 32,909 patients for whom the time between referral and treatment is available, 17,461 – or 53% - began their hospital treatment within 18 weeks. For different types of operation the proportion of patients in the North West whose treatment started within 18 weeks varied between 88% for Thoracic medicine and 24% for Neurology.

National figures also show that in March 2007, 25,750 of those starting treatment – 12.4% of the total admitted in that month - had been waiting more than a year between referral and the start of their treatment. That includes 3,480 patients in the North West. If the figures released this week for admissions in March are representative of waiting times for all hospital admissions, this suggests that in a full year nearly half a million people, including just under 75,000 in the North West Region, would be kept waiting for over a year.

Ministers in Whitehall claim that they have reduced waiting times for hospital patients, but they did not even collect actual waiting times until they had been in power for over ten years.

These figures prove that many of the things government ministers have been telling us about the NHS are just not true. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown has claimed that no-one waits more than six months for an operation. Hearing this must have been very annoying for the 25,650 people in March alone who were admitted to hospital after waiting more than a year. Is it any wonder that people are losing faith in politics when their intelligence is insulted by this kind of spin and propaganda?

It is simply not good enough that only 53% of patients in the North West are seen within 18 weeks, and worse, in March 3,480 people in this region alone had to wait for over a year. But let’s make this absolutely clear, the way to improve this performance is to divert resources from bureaucracy to front-line patient care. We will not improve performance by shutting hospitals.
Britain must learn lessons from the health services on the other side of the channel - in Europe, waiting lists like this are unheard of.

Labour have had ten years, and spent vast amounts of money bringing NHS funding up to the European average, but all this money has not delivered anything like the improvement in outcomes required to take us up to continental standards of health care.

NHS staff work hard every day to deliver improvements in patient care, but they are held back by a top-down, target-driven culture imposed on the NHS by Gordon Brown’s Treasury. We need to set doctors and nurses free to make decisions about patients based on their need, rather than a central target.


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