500 patients wait over a year for an operation

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Government push on completing “hidden” surgery list

The NHS in England has been ordered by government to prioritise patients who have been waiting over a year for routine treatment.

Ministers have stated that they want to see over 100,000 procedures carried out over the summer on patients who have had to wait longer than the target 18 weeks wait. Currently, there are approximately 200,000 patients in that situation, with 65,000 waiting for more than half a year and 500 who have been put on the back burner for over one year. The patients who have been forced to wait the longest will be prioritised for prompt treatment.

Targets dictate that the NHS is meant to see 90% of patients who need non-emergency operations, such as knee and hip replacements, within 18 weeks. However, the Department of Health have confessed that targets may slip whilst the patient backlog is being dealt with, although they predict the situation would return to normal by the end of the year.

Waiting for surgery

Patients who have been waiting the longest are sometimes called the ‘hidden list’ because there is less incentive to treat them once they pass the 18 week mark, as this is the factor trusts are judged against. Patients who have had to wait have also been defined by minister as being the most “complex and difficult” cases to treat.

On the whole however, waiting list times has dropped – with 18,000 patients waiting more than 52 weeks back in May 2010, but only 574 patients waited that long in May of this year. Despite this, hospitals have received an additional £250 million in funding to help tackle the costs of the extra operations.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt told BBC News “No-one – except in exceptional circumstances – should have to wait for more than a year. We need targets that help patients get treatment when they need it – not targets followed blindly with no regard for the impact on individuals.”

But Dr Mark Porter, of the British Medical Association, said “It is right to prioritise patients who have had to wait the longest for treatment, but this announcement tries to wash over the fact that more patients will have to wait longer for an operation because the government, in effect, is having to ration care. This is yet more evidence that the NHS is buckling under extreme pressure and that patient care is being compromised.”