Statistics indicate that the target for routine operations in England – which include such procedures as working on hips and knees – has been missed for the first time since the figures have been collated.
At the end of December, 91.8% of patients on the waiting list had been waiting less than 18 weeks.
This is marginally less than the target of 92% that was put in place in April 2012.
It is possible that the junior doctors strike, which was scheduled for 1st December, had a significant impact on the figures.
Although this strike was ultimately terminated at the eleventh hour, many hospitals had already cancelled operations, and it is likely that this pushed the figure under the 92% benchmark.
The NHS England statistics show that at the end of December the number of patients waiting to start treatment for routine operations was just under 3.3 million and of those, 755 people had been waiting for longer than 52 weeks.
However, the 92% target to treat patients within 18 weeks was missed in a variety of other areas.
This is far more common than with routine operations, but will nonetheless be considered concerning for the NHS as a whole.
The targets were missed in the following medical areas:
Plastic surgery – 87%
Neurosurgery – 87%
General surgery – 88.6%
Oral – 91.2%
Ear nose and throat – 90.8%
Cardiothoracic – which relates to the heart and chest or lungs – 88.7%
Responding to the figures, an NHS England spokesman not unreasonably pointed out that the figures were actually rather good, even if they do not meet the targets set for the NHS by the government.
“Hospitals continue to treat more than nine out of 10 patients within 18 weeks of their referral. More than 1.14 million patients started consultant-led treatment in December and the total number of patients referred in 2015 is up 4.1% on the previous year.”
On the other hand, it is noticeable that there has been an increase of over 10% in delays in 2015 compared with the 2014 calendar year.
This must be seen as disappointing, and possibly could be indicative of the financial issues that the NHS is facing.
The Royal College of Surgeons drew attention to this declining situation, and its president Clare Marx indicated that fiscal causes must be addressed if the situation is to improve in the future.
“In surgery, performance has been particularly affected for operations such as hip and knee replacements. Delayed treatment is extremely distressing to all patients. It is welcome that the government has promised extra money in the comprehensive spending review but we also need a long-term sustainable plan to address the increasing numbers of patients needing surgery.”