Hospital waiting times tracker: December 2010

The White Paper, Equity and excellence: liberating the NHS, sets out a significant set of reforms for the NHS over the coming years. As we do with all new major policy developments, The King's Fund will follow the evolution and implementation of these changes and assess their impact. As part of this evaluation we will collate and comment on key aspects of NHS performance, starting with hospital waiting times.

December 2010: ups and downs

The latest 18-week referral to treatment waiting times data for December 2010 are shown in the figures below. As we have pointed out before, in our seasonal effects blog, care should be taken in interpreting changes in waiting times.

An interesting update to the revision of the Operating Framework for 2010/11 (which announced the abolition of central performance management of the 18-week target) came in Sir David Nicholson's 17 February letter to the NHS.

Sir David stated that he had encountered some 'misunderstandings about the government's intentions in respect of waiting times' and that 'the government has stated its strong support for the rights in the NHS Constitution, which established patients' right to access services within maximum waiting times or to be offered a range of alternative providers if this is not possible.' Enforcing the rights in the constitution would, he said, be the job of 'local commissioners [who] should hold providers to the constitutional rights and their contractual commitments, including achievement of maximum waiting times, with firm action to tackle outliers.'

Median waiting times (weeks) predictions and actual waiting times

As for our predictions for median waiting times for December (based on seasonal trends), as the table shows, they were close. Predictions for January median waits are in the last column of the table. As further data accumulates we will re-examine seasonal trends to see if there is any divergence over time.

Click on the graphs below to expand them

Patients still on waiting lists waiting more than 18 weeks

Patients still on waiting lists waiting more than 18 weeks Dec 10

Patients treated in outpatients who waited more than 18 weeks

Patients treated in outpatients who waited more than 18 weeks Dec 10

Patients admitted as inpatients who waited more than 18 weeks

Patients admitted as inpatients who waited more than 18 weeks Dec 10

Patients waiting more than 6 weeks for a diagnostic test

Patients waiting more than 6 weeks for a diagnostic test Dec 10

Source: All graphs adapted from Department of Health: Referral to Treatment Waiting Tines Statistics