Massive rise in hospital waiting list

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SURGERY waiting times rose by 169 per cent at Buckinghamshire hospitals between May 2010 and the start of this year, according to new figures.

To reach the NHS’ 18-week target and clear the backlog, the number of operations being carried-out at Stoke Mandeville Hospital had to be ramped-up over the winter.

In response union boss Steve Bell is calling for more investment in the service to prevent waiting times ‘increasing further’ in the future.

Under the NHS Constitution, the time between a GP referral and an operation should be a maximum of 18 weeks.

In Buckinghamshire 167 patients missed that target in May 2010. By November 2011 that figure had risen to 450. The increase is being blamed on staff shortages (through illness) and a 35 per cent increase in ‘demand’.

A Bucks Primary Care Trust report, looking into the issue, found that almost 15 per cent of patients were being treated outside of the 18-week target towards the end of last year.

The worst-affected departments were trauma, orthopaedics and plastic surgery.

An action-plan was drawn up, which involved carrying out more operations at weekends and better-use of operating-theatre timetables.

This week performance director Colin Thompson vowed that waiting times are getting back-on-track.

He said: “The trust will be compliant with the 18-week standard for patients treated in January and detailed planning and monitoring is in place between the Primary Care Trust and Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust to ensure this is maintained going forward.”

The Primary Care Trust for Buckinghamshire expects to have a £100,000 surplus at the end of this financial year.

South-East Euro-MP Peter Skinner (Labour), who obtained the waiting list figures, this week used the example to urge the coalition to have an NHS re-think.

He called on the Prime Minister to ‘listen to our doctors and nurses’ and drop the planned NHS reforms. He said: “Patient care should be the priority but instead Cameron is ploughing-on with his health bill, ignoring public and professional opinion.

“Not only is it a dangerous distraction but his £2 billion reorganisation will privatise our NHS and force patients to wait even longer for urgent treatments.”

Steve Bell, secretary of the Bucks health branch of Unison, which represents NHS workers in the county, backed the calls and voiced concern about the increase in waiting times.

He said: “This is no surprise to those of us working in Buckinghamshire. We are seeing re-organisation after re-organisation in an attempt to make so-called efficiency savings.

“Hundreds of posts have been lost in these cuts and staff morale is extremely low. With further cuts to be made in the financial year it would not surprise me if we see waiting lists increase further.

“Bucks is 17 per cent underfunded compared to the national average and rather than making cuts we should be seeing an increase in funding to ensure that care for local people is maintained and the waiting list reduced. The new health and social care bill will not change this as we have already seen waiting times for some of the new services just commissioned increase.

“Unison has been campaigning for years to highlight the under-funding issue and now we see the results. Unison in Bucks will continue to expose, highlight and oppose cuts in funding to the NHS and will build joint campaigns between those who work in the NHS and those who use it.”