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NHS waiting times rise for first time in a year

The number of NHS patients waiting longer than 18 weeks to be seen at hospital has increased for the first time in a year amid concerns that cuts are hitting front-line services.NHS waiting times rise for first time in a yearIn June there were 155,439 people who had been waiting longer than 18 weeks to be seen in hospital after being referred by their GP, compared to 143,337 in May.

It is the first time there has been a month on month increase in the number of patients breaching the 18 week waiting time standard since July 2011.

The number waiting for more than a year also increased from 3,302 in May to 3,500 in June.

Officials said the ‘blip’ was due to the two extra bank holidays in June for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, however others raised concerns that financial constraints on the NHS were beginning to have an impact.

Patients have a right to be seen in hospital within 18 weeks under the NHS Constitution or can request to go private at the NHS’ expense.

David Stout, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, which represents most health service organisations, said: “NHS organisations have worked hard to make sure the vast majority of patients get their treatment within 18 weeks.

“This has been no mean feat, especially against the continued backdrop of massive financial pressures on the health service. We should give the NHS the credit it is due for this performance.  The latest figures do show a small decrease in the percentage of patients admitted within 18 weeks. While this should not be seen as the start of a decline in performance, it will be important to monitor waiting times closely as financial pressures start to bite in the NHS.”

“Managers and clinicians keep their organisation’s performance on referral to treatment times under continual scrutiny.

“In some organisations there is more to be done to ensure they meet the waiting times of the best, but we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that the average waiting time for treatment has fallen in the past five years from over 14 weeks to less than six weeks.

“These successes are the direct result of hard work by staff right across the NHS.”

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “Average waiting times are low and stable. The NHS is meeting the standard that 92 per cent of patients still waiting to start treatment should have been waiting no more than 18 weeks.”

“The number of patients waiting longer than 18 weeks before starting treatment is over 50,000 lower than in May 2010.

“It is not unusual to see seasonal fluctuations in the number of patients treated. The extra bank holidays in June 2012 meant fewer working days and on one of these, the BMA took industrial action causing a number of treatments and operations to be delayed or rescheduled.

“However, we are clear that the NHS should not keep people waiting longer than 18 weeks, and if this is the case, that they are treated as soon as possible.”

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