RCS President Calls For Action On NHS Waiting Times

Clare Marx Wants Review On Standardised NHS Surgery Waiting Times


The new president of the Royal College of Surgeons Clare Marx has called for action to be taken on NHS waiting times for surgery, saying the current approach is unsuitable for many patients.

At present, the NHS Constitution states that everyone has the right to access particular services commissioned by NHS bodies within a maximum waiting time of 18 weeks from a GP's referral, unless a patient chooses to wait longer or a delay is clinically appropriate.

It does not apply to urgent conditions such as cancer, for which the maximum waiting time is two weeks.

This is a legal right set out by NHS England and Clinical Commissioning Groups in the Responsibilities and Standing Rules Regulations 2012. If the promise cannot be met, alternative hospitals or community clinics that can provide treatment must be offered.

However, speaking to BBC News, Ms Marx said this system represents a "one size fits all" approach that could be causing stress for patients and an additional burden on the NHS. Instead, she recommended assessing patients' waiting times on a case by case basis.

"We need to think is 18 weeks too long for some, and possibly could other people wait longer than 18 weeks?" she commented.

Under some circumstances, delaying surgery may end up costing the NHS more money if there are complications with the original condition and it causes further health problems.

Chief executive of The Patients Association Katherine Murphy backed Ms Marx's call for debate, insisting that doctors need the authority to treat patients more quickly if necessary.

The comments come after a Patients Association report published at the start of this month and based on NHS performance data showed people are now waiting an average of 15 days longer than in 2010 to have their tonsils removed, 14 days longer for adenoid removal and ten days longer for a hernia procedure.

In some cases, patients are facing delays of up to 215 days for surgery, far longer than the 18 weeks promised by the government.

Expert Opinion
One of the key factors in the provision of safe care and treatment to patients is ensuring they can access the help they require in a timely manner. Sadly, our work on behalf of those injured as a result of problems during treatment mean we see instances when this has not been the case – and people have suffered as a result.

"It is vital that all aspects of the NHS are fit for purpose and it is important to examine whether steps should be taken to consider how waiting times for surgery can be managed in a way which ensure that those who need urgent care can get access to it quickly.

"The safety of patients must be the fundamental driver behind decisions and we hope that any changes to current guidelines always maintain a focus on this."
Mandy Luckman, Partner