The King's Fund 'cautiously optimistic' NHS will achieve 18-week waiting time target but faster progress needed on diagnostic tests

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Responding to the Prime Minister's comments today that the NHS will attempt to deliver average waiting times for patients of eight weeks from GP referral to treatment, The King's Fund chief executive Niall Dickson said:

'The government is right to set maximum national waiting time targets and we welcome the progress that has been made in reducing the very long waiting times that patients used to experience. This target means the NHS is taking action to reduce the long hidden waits for diagnostic tests that patients used to face.

'We are cautiously optimistic that the 18-week maximum waiting time target will be achieved, but this will be a much tougher challenge than the government, or indeed any of us, initially anticipated. Just over a third of patients are currently being treated within 18 weeks, while the average waiting is closer to 30 weeks.

'These delays are often due to long waits for diagnosis. Last January, 29 per cent of patients waiting for key diagnostic tests had been waiting for more than 13 weeks. This had fallen to just 24 per cent a year later in December. We need to see a faster improvement in this area if the target is to be achieved.'

Niall Dickson added:

'The health system is already under considerable financial pressure with many NHS trusts in deficit. We also know there are wide variations in waiting times between different parts of the country. This means that while some trusts are likely to achieve the target, others will struggle to do so.

'But this is not just a question of resources. If the health service is going to achieve the target then hospitals will need to improve the ways in which they deliver care to patients and become more effective in how they organise care.

'And, finally, while having a target can galvanise the system we must be careful that other areas of care, such as mental health and managing long-term conditions, are not neglected in the process.'

Notes to editors

1. For further information or interviews, please contact the King’s Fund media and public relations office on 020 7307 2585, 020 7307 2632 or 020 7307 2581. An ISDN line is available for interviews on 020 7637 0185.

2. The King’s Fund is an independent charitable foundation working for better health, especially in London. We carry out research, policy analysis and development activities, working on our own, in partnerships, and through funding. We are a major resource to people working in health and social care, offering leadership development programmes; seminars and workshops; publications; information and library services; and conference and meeting facilities.