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.
The latest 18-week referral to treatment waiting times data for February 2011 are shown in the figures below. In addition, diagnostic waiting times for March are also now available.
Median waiting times in February for all parts of the referral to treatment pathway are more or less in line with seasonal trends – although it is interesting to note that for outpatients they have reached a historic low of just 3.5 weeks. However, the proportion of admitted patients waiting more than 18 weeks appears to be creeping up and 14.8 per cent (8,407) waited more than 18 weeks – the highest since February 2008.
As we have pointed out before, care should be taken in interpreting changes in waiting times due to seasonal effects.
Patients still on waiting lists waiting more than 18 weeks
For patients still on waiting lists, around 11.1 per cent (263,846) are still waiting more than 18 weeks – a small fall in the proportion over January.
Patients treated in outpatients who waited more than 18 weeks
For those seen in outpatients, around 2.8 per cent (22,499) had waited more than 18 weeks – the highest since December 2008.
Patients admitted as inpatients who waited more than 18 weeks
This tracker has so far used unadjusted figures for admitted patients. The figures which have been used for the 18-week inpatient waiting time target are adjusted to account for 'clock stops' – legitimate pauses as specified in the Department of Health referral to treatment rules. However, trends in both measures are similar.
Patients waiting more than 6 weeks for a diagnostic test
For diagnostics, the percentage of people waiting more than six weeks for March 2011 remains small at 1.9 per cent. However this represents over 10,000 patients and is an increase on the percentage for February 2011.
Source: Adapted from: Department of Health: Referral to treatment waiting times statistics