Waiting times are getting worse, the Patients Association warns, with a study showing the number of people waiting more than 18 weeks for routine surgery nearly doubling since 2014.
The total number of patients waiting over 18 weeks for the calendar year of 2015 was 92,739, compared to 51,388 patients in 2014 – an 80% increase.
The report, called Feeling the Wait, finds trusts across England each cancelled an average of 753 operations on the day in 2015.
Equipment shortages, a lack of beds and scheduling errors were the main reasons given to patients in such cases, the authors said.
The Patients Association believes that all patients should be accessing their legal right to surgery within the 18 week (126 days) waiting time limit as set out in the NHS Constitution.
The key findings from the report include:
- Average waiting times for five procedures (hip replacement, knee replacement, hernia, adenoid and tonsillectomies) are above 100 days, which represents the highest average waiting time in the six years data has been collected by the Patients Association.
- Adenoid operations had the longest average waiting time at 110 days, with a rise of around 15 days from 2014 to 2015.
- 77% of Trusts are failing to notify patients of their rights under the NHS Constitution when the 18-week limit has been missed.
Theatre improvements were the most commonly reported programme being used by trusts to improve compliance to the 18 week waiting time.
Two Trusts reported that they have implemented bans for out-of-area procedures. This is incompatible with patient choice rights from the NHS Constitution.
As part of the study, qualitative research was undertaken with patients on the impact of waiting times on their lives. Three concerns were identified:
- Patients feel like they are chasing communication with trusts for information on the surgery date and that there is a lack of transparency between trusts and patients.
- Psychological distress. There is a significant psychological burden on patients waiting to be given a date for surgery and for patients whose surgery has been cancelled.
- Patient safety. Patients are concerned that the long waiting times will affect how successful their eventual surgery will be and how much recovery time they will need.
A spokesperson for the Patients Association said: “Overall, with the significant jump in waiting times, we are very concerned that relaxing the rules on waiting time targets as recently reported will only exacerbate an already unacceptable situation for patients.
“From the patient’s perspective, nothing positive can come from taking away NHS targets – it just means people could be waiting even longer, as there will be little incentive for NHS providers to focus on efficiency.”