A recent news report by the BBC confirms that NHS patients are waiting longer for non-urgent operations in England. In fact, the number of patients waiting longer than 18 weeks for routine treatment is at a record high since September 2008.
The Guardian confirms in a recent news piece that the number of people being forced to wait more than six months for an operation in hospital has trebled in the past four years. The types of routine treatment most affected include hernia repairs, cataract removals and hip or knee replacements.
Rising demand from an ageing population, widespread staff shortages, and an unprecedented financial squeeze are behind the NHS’s failure to meet a range of treatment waiting time targets.
Leaked documents earlier this year, according to a report in The Telegraph, revealed that the number of NHS patients waiting longer than 18 weeks for surgery is forecast to double in two years.
This comes on the back of the announcement made by Simon Stevens, NHS England’s chief executive, in March that the target of treating at least 92 per cent of patients awaiting routine surgery with 18 weeks was being downgraded so they could focus on improving A&E care.
NHS waiting time guidelines are based on the premise that if you are referred for a physical or mental health condition, you have a legal right to start non-urgent consultant-led treatment, or be seen by a cancer specialist, within a maximum waiting time. For non-urgent referrals this is 18 weeks.
Your waiting time starts from the point the hospital or NHS service receives the referral letter from your GP, or health practitioner. Your waiting time ends if a clinician decides no treatment is necessary, you decide you don’t want treatment, or your treatment begins.
Your right to an 18-week waiting time does not apply if you choose to wait longer for treatment, a delay is in your best clinical interests (i.e to lose weight or give up smoking), clinical intervention is deemed unnecessary at that stage, or you fail to attend appointments.
More and more people are turning to private health insurance for peace of mind when it comes to the possibility of requiring routine healthcare as they grow older. With burgeoning financial pressures the future of the NHS continues to challenge across the political spectrum.
A recent article published in The Lancet on The Future of the NHS concludes that unless several changes are implemented the NHS and adult social care system will be unsustainable. They point to radical service transformation and viable long-term funding solutions as the answer, including consideration of an insurance-based system starting in middle age to cover care costs.