Long waits for elective care continue to rise

The number of people waiting longer than the 18-week target for elective care has continued to rise sharply, according to figures from NHS England (NHSE).

NHSE’s latest quarterly report showed that the number of patients waiting longer than 18-weeks from referral to treatment has increased by almost 22% in the last twelve months – from 362,731 in January 2017 to 440,841 in January 2018.

Meanwhile, the number of people waiting more than 12 months for elective surgery has risen by almost 40% in a year, from 1,345 at the end of January 2017 to 1,869 patients this year.

The government’s target of 92% of patients waiting no longer than 18-weeks from referral to treatment for elective procedures – such as hip and knee operations – has not been met since February 2016, NHSE said.

Of the patients waiting for elective surgery at the end of January 2018, 88.2% had been waiting less than 18 weeks compared to 90.0% at the end of January 2017.

In its latest Quarterly Monitoring Report, the King’s Fund said that the 12% of people waiting longer than 18-weeks for routine treatment in December last year was the highest proportion since March 2009.

David Hare, chief executive of the NHS Partners Network, said: ‘In order to deliver the additional activity required to meet the government’s commitment to stabilise the waiting list by March 2019, a considerable amount of additional capacity is needed and we believe that the target is only deliverable if the NHS makes extensive use of independent sector capacity.

‘In last Autumn’s Budget, the government rightly committed more money to ensure ‘significant inroads’ are made into elective care waiting lists. It is essential that this investment gets to the front line and that the significant spare capacity in the independent sector is utilised by local areas to ensure patients can access the fastest possible care, including through exercising their right to choose the best care provider for them.’

The King’s Fund has called on the NHS to  ensure waiting times target are implemented in a way that prevents further increases in long waits for patients.

Richard Murray, director of policy at The King’s Fund, said: ‘With demand for services likely to remain high, it’s very unlikely that meeting these targets will become more achievable. The waiting time standards should not be abandoned but the NHS needs to ensure the way they are implemented does not leave patients who are not treated within the time limits facing long waits for treatment.’