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NHS waiting times & your care

Man looking concerned after reading a letter
7th September 2017

Over the past few years we have seen huge shifts in NHS waiting times, with massive improvements made between 2011 and 2013 which saw numbers drop significantly from over 20,000 in 2011 to 214 in 2013, but with a pronounced increase in the years since. This year 1,544 people are reported as waiting over 52 weeks for treatment on the NHS, which is more than sevenfold increase from 2013. Admittedly, we are currently nowhere near the waiting times of 2011, with the 20,000 high, but if the current trend is allowed to continue we could be seeing those numbers again within a few short years.

Referral Targets

There’s lots of jargon when it comes to NHS statistics, and a phrase most often used is RTT. RTT means “referral to treatment” - it starts when you see a medical professional for a health issue (referral) and ends when you receive treatment for it.

The current NHS target for the maximum amount of time from referral to treatment is set at 18 weeks (4.5 months), and a minimum of 92% of people are supposed to be seen in this timeframe. But the NHS missed this target last year – only 90.3% of people were seen with the time promised.

1.7% seems like a very small amount, but this means an additional 27,300 people didn’t get seen within 18 weeks. If the NHS hit their target of 92%, then 312,000 would still receive delayed treatment. With an institution as large as the NHS, it can be easy to forget that even a small percentage can mean thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people affected.

For patients who have suspected signs of cancer, the waiting times are very different - 93% of referrals must be seen within 2 weeks. You’ll be glad to know that in all nine areas targeted for cancer referrals, the NHS exceeds their goal, but there are concerns that targets are deliberately being missed elsewhere in order to ensure cancer treatment targets are met.

A&E Targets

You can’t have a conversation about waiting times and not approach the sensitive subject of the accident and emergency department. It is one of the most heavily trafficked areas of a hospital, with 2,074,000 people admitted in July of this year alone.

A&E departments run on a priority basis and patients with the most serious and life-threatening injuries are seen first, no matter when they arrived. For non-emergency admittees, quite often those who have walked or have been driven in, the wait to be treated can be much longer, however, the target maximum waiting time is supposed to be four hours.

When the four-hour waiting time was introduced in 2004, the NHS met the set 98% success rate, but fast-forward to this year and the number of people seen in less than four hours in type 1 A&E departments has dropped to 82%. The target has even been further reduced to 95% and A&E departments are nowhere near the promised speed of treatment.

The Impact of Waiting Times

The causes of longer waiting times are consistently blamed on overworked doctors, a shortage of staff and too many people using the NHS. However, reports and statistics show that in A&Es it is a lack of things, such as beds, after admittance that are causing delays in emergency care. Within the referrals and routine surgery departments, waiting times are apparently being compromised to improve numbers elsewhere, such as cancer treatment. When it comes to healthcare, hearing that waiting times are worsening is frustrating and upsetting, but how do longer waiting times actually affect individuals and their care?

One patient had a gastroscopy for a stomach ulcer delayed for 2 months, which caused him unnecessary suffering and severe pain for four weeks while he waited for an available appointment. He made a claim against the NHS and was awarded £16,793.

The patient above is just one of many people who have faced long waiting times that have directly affected their health. The NHS itself is aware of issues caused by waiting times as shown in their report on techniques to tackle treatment errors (known as GIRFT, or ‘get it right first time)-

In general, safer care is considered to be care that is more efficient, through quicker recovery, shorter lengths of stay and reduced need for high dependency units or intensive care. Many of the inefficiencies we have seen can be avoided, such as hospital acquired infections, or they are caused by poorly coordinated care, with unnecessary or delayed investigations or treatments.

The sad fact is that the number of people making medical negligence claims against the NHS has increased significantly in recent years, as stats from the NHSLA annual report show. In 2010/11, 8,655 new claims were brought against the NHS and in 2016/17, 10,686 new claims were brought. There was a peak of 11,945 in 2013/14 which means claims numbers aren’t currently at their highest, but the fact is that more compensation is being paid out despite case numbers declining in the last four years.

The amount paid out in compensation increased by approximately £218 million in a single year, from £1.49 billion 2015/16 to £1.7 billion in 2016/17. But that’s not all; the total budget for the NHSLA (the NHS Litigation Authority who handle all claims) has increased massively from £26 billion in 2014 to £65 billion this year.

Making a Claim Against the NHS

We understand that most people are very reluctant to make a claim against the NHS – the image built around it in recent years is of a system in crisis with no staff and no money, and thus it requires the public to be savvy with their use and protect it from further damage. There is no doubt that resources are stretched and increased waiting times are proof of that, but we have to ask if life-altering injury, illness, or even death, for hundreds or thousands of people each year is the price we pay.

The NHS, like any other company, service provider or government run department, is held accountable – we want and need a healthcare provider that has to acknowledge its errors. Complaints and claims make mistakes visible and compensation helps people live their lives without the financial burden their injury has caused. If you, or a loved one, have experienced a worsened condition due to long waiting times or any other type of issue with your NHS treatment, contact us for a free initial phone consultation and see how we could help.