NHS abandons 18-week waiting times in 'trade-off'

Patients must wait longer for non-urgent operations in exchange for improved care elsewhere, says chief executive

NHS sign outside St Thomas's hospital in London
(Image credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

NHS patients in England will have to wait longer for non-urgent operations and go without some new drugs under new plans to be announced today.

GPs will also be asked to cut back on the number of patients they refer to hospital and to encourage options such as physiotherapy instead.

Announcing the moves, Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said funding issues meant the service could no longer guarantee treatment within the 18-week target time and that longer waits for the likes of hip and knee replacements were a "trade-off" for improved care in other areas, such as cancer diagnosis and A&E care, reports The Times.

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He added that radical modernisation of how the NHS works is needed to ensure it survives as a service funded by general taxation that is free at the point of use.

According to The Guardian, "the number of patients not receiving treatment within 18 weeks of referral has gone up by 100,000 since January 2016".

The Royal College of Surgeons of England (RCSE) accused the NHS of "waving the white flag on the 18-week target", while shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the news was disappointing.

He added: "More and more rationing of treatments is taking place, this plan confirms that [the] government has broken its promise by failing to give the NHS the funding it needs."

Steven's strategy has been "billed by NHS England as 'taking stock' of where the service has got to since the five-year strategy was unveiled in 2014", says BBC health editor Hugh Pym.

One thing noticeably missing in its 75 pages, he adds, is a request for extra cash.

Stevens "got into a spat with Number 10 Downing Street earlier this year by suggesting the NHS had not got the money it asked for" and "has clearly decided not to risk further strife by holding out the begging bowl again".

Pym continues: "Ambitions seem more limited than before, demand is rising faster than expected and the message from Stevens is 'this is the best we can do with what we have got'."

Today's report comes two months after the worst figures ever in terms of A&E waiting times were published. Official statistics showed 85.1 per cent of patients were seen within four hours in January 2017, down from 86.2 per cent in December.

Infographic provided by Statista, for theweek.co.uk

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