New NHS waiting time targets must not dilute patient care, says IHPN

The Independent Healthcare Providers Network (IHPN) has urged the government not dilute access to care after NHS England indicated that maximum waiting times for elective surgery could be replaced by an ‘average’ waiting time target.

In its Clinically-led Review of NHS Access Standards published this week, NHS England said it would test a new approach to targets for planned surgery based on average waiting times for incomplete pathways. At the same time, it said it would continue to examine the current maximum waiting time approach to test whether the threshold and target of 92% of patients seen within 18 weeks was ‘appropriate’.

According to the Review, the current target can be misleading since the majority of patients actually wait fewer than ten weeks from referral to treatment.

In addition, it reiterated its NHS Long Term Plan commitment to strengthen the ability of patients waiting longer than 26 weeks to choose an alternative provider and to eliminate 52 week waits entirely.

‘Using an average waiting time, rather than communicating to patients with reference to an upper most length of time that they could wait, may better reflect how long they are actually going to wait. Furthermore, the new 26-week offer of an alternative provider of treatment places a requirement on the NHS to find alternative arrangements for patients, rather than the patients themselves having to do so,’ said the Review.

IHPN said the proposals around average waiting times were still vague, but that it was vital any changes did not reduce access for patients.

CEO David Hare said: ‘NHS waiting times targets must be easily understood by patients and the wider public, as well as robustly enforced. While we do welcome the review’s commitment to strengthen the rights of patients to select an alternative provider if they are waiting more than six months, we are clear that any broader changes to the 18-week target will need careful consideration and first and foremost be driven by the needs of patients.’