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 January 2011 is 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 due to seasonal effects.
While median waiting times for all parts of the referral to treatment pathway are more or less in line with seasonal trends this month, the proportion of patients waiting more than 18 weeks appear to be creeping up.
For patients still on waiting lists, around 11.5 per cent (263,452) are still waiting more than 18 weeks – the highest proportion since March 2009. For those seen in outpatients, around 2.7 per cent (22,581) had waited more than 18 weeks – the highest for two years. And for those admitted as inpatients, 14.4 per cent (6,563) waited more than 18 weeks – the highest since April 2008.
Median waiting times (weeks) predictions and actual waiting times
As for our predictions for median waiting times for January (based largely on seasonal trends), as the table shows, they were close for admitted (inpatients) and non-admitted (outpatients) elements of waiting, but wrong for incomplete patient paths (still waiting). The expectation on the basis of past changes in January for patients still waiting was for an increase in median waiting time. However, the median wait fell by 0.4 weeks. Predictions for February 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.