NHS Hospitals cutting operations while waiting times rise
Hospitals are cutting back on routine operations like hip and knee replacements as the NHS budget freeze starts to take effect while waiting times are beginning to rise, new figures show.
A survey of more than 60 hospital trusts has found that they carried out almost 11,000 fewer planned or ‘elective’ operations in 2010 than they did in 2009.
The trusts that replied carried out 1,227 fewer knee replacements, a drop of six per cent, and 531 fewer hip replacements.
And they carried out 2,041 fewer hernia operations, down 7.25 per cent, and 1,770 fewer tonsillectomies, a drop of 11 per cent.
The figures are from Freedom of Information requests to England’s 170 NHS hospital trusts, made by the Patients Association, of which 62 responded.
The pressure group described the figures as “a disgrace” while doctors labelled them “worrying”.
The Patients Association also found that, on average, waiting times for hip replacements rose from 80 to 88 days and for knee replacements from 82 to 90 days.
The organisation undertook the research after receiving triple the number of calls in 2010 from patients saying they were having problems getting the surgery they needed, compared to 2009.
In December The Daily Telegraph reported how some trusts were postponing lower-priority procedures to save money.
Although the NHS is receiving a 0.5 per cent above inflation increase each year between now and 2014, critics say a commitment to make internal savings of up to £20 billion by then means front-line services are being affected.
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: “It is a disgrace that patients are being denied access to surgical procedures that they would have had if they had needed them a year ago.”
She added: “With the NHS needing to make £20 billion of savings by 2014, we are worried that this situation is only going to get worse – how many more thousands of patients are going to be denied operations this time next year?
“This research backs up what patients are telling us every day on our helpline, less operations are being carried out, and those fortunate enough to get an operation are having to wait longer for it to take place.”
John Black, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, described the figures as “worrying”.
He said: “Patients must be seen on a clinical need, rather than a financial basis. Any cost savings this may bring in the short term will be negated as these patients present with more serious conditions further down the line.”
However, the Department of Health said official hospital statistics for all trusts in England indicated that NHS activity went up in 2010, not down.
For example, from April to October 2010 there were 41,863 hip operations, compared to 39,114 for the corresponding six months in 2009; while the figures for knee operations were 45,463 and 43,454 respectively.
A spokesman said: “There is no justification for asserting that quality of care is slipping. Official figures show that the NHS is delivering more for patients and that waiting times are stable.”
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