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New NHS plans could mean average wait of eight and a half weeks

This article was taken from: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/11/26/new-nhs-plans-could-mean-average-wait-eight-half-weeks/

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Patients waiting for NHS surgery should receive treatment in eight and a half weeks, on average, under NHS proposals, documents suggest.

Experts said that if the changes go ahead, it would mean slightly longer waiting times than under today’s targets.

Under the current measures, 92 per cent of patients are supposed to receive treatment within 18 weeks.

But this target has been repeatedly missed, with latest monthly figures showing 84.5 per cent of patients seen within this time.

Health officials have already proposed axing the 18 week target, and replacing it with a measure based on “average” waiting times.

Now board papers produced by Northampton General Hospital Trust, one of the 12 NHS trusts testing new measures, show managers expect the average wait under such a system to be 8.5 weeks.

A waiting times expert told Health Service Journal that this would mean a lowering of standards, as the existing target means an average wait of eight weeks.

NHS England said testing was still “ongoing” and no decisions “whatsoever have been made on any particular measure, including a mean wait”.

In March, NHS England announced proposals to scrap key targets for patients, including the four-hour A&E wait and the one to receive an operation within 18 weeks.

Dr Rob Findlay, director of the software company Gooroo and a specialist in NHS waiting times, said the existing 18-week target equates to an average wait of eight weeks.

He also said that the new measure under discussion was roughly equivalent to a 19-week maximum waiting time.

“This is probably a relaxation compared with the current 18-week target, and the Government should take flak for lowering standards (if such a target is introduced)” he said.

The 18-week target was last met in February 2016.

Nuffield Trust research analyst, Jessica Morris, said: “There is going to be a challenging PR exercise here if this is introduced.

“Patients tend to care about how long they are going to wait, not how long everyone else in the queue has been waiting.

“We will want to see it rigorously tested, and the results, before a decision is made.”

NHS England said: “Testing and engagement with clinicians and patients on the best measures of short waits for routine care is ongoing, and it is completely untrue to claim that any decisions whatsoever have been made on any particular measure, including a mean wait.”

A Tory source said: “This is pure speculation. Nothing has gone to ministers yet.”