Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Hospital waiting lists soar...

In the last ten years a "target culture" has grown up, with central and local government committing to the public to meet targets in the delivery of services. In particular the NHS has had a series of waiting list size and waiting time targets imposed on it. IMO this has been a good thing for patients, with targets monitored and reported and waiting lists and waiting times coming down dramatically over a ten year period. While targets have their critics, and are no panacea, no-one can deny that shorter waiting times for treatment is generally a good thing. In the case of severe ailments like cancer it can even be life-saving.

The Tories spent  much time and energy in opposition in ridiculing these targets, suggesting that they were just a bureacratic waste of time and, when in power, they couldn't wait to downgrade the importance of the commitments.

Today Pulse, the GP's newspaper, is reporting a surge in the numbers of patients waiting more than the guaranteed 18 weeks. 
"...Overall, 45,000 patients missed out on treatment in 18 weeks during September, up 15% from 39,000 in July. Some 12.6% of patients awaiting orthopaedic or trauma treatment, and 10.6% awaiting oral surgery, waited more than 18 weeks..."

The deterioration seems to have happened after the ToryDem government announced that it would no longer monitor or report on whether the target is being achieved. The message to Primary care trusts was: we don't care about these targets, do what you want on waiting times and we will not stop you.

However, the 18 week target remains a right and a government commitment. Pulse speculates that Primary Trusts (and GPs if they take on commissioning responsibility) may be open to legal challenge if the commitnment is not met in general or in particular circumstances.

The legal challenge is one thing, and that may concern GPs and other medical practioners. But it is the absolute reduction in delivering better and quicker health care that should concern us all. This development is a predictable outcome of the Conservative approach to public services.

Under previous Tory regimes (and I see no difference with the so-called coalition) public services were allowed to wither away: Education, the Police and the NHS were starved of money and political support, and they deteriorated as a result.

We have already seeen that Education has been cut, no new schools are to be built and university funding has been savagely cut. The Police are in the firing line with daily announcements of reductions in police-force numbers. Now the NHS is going backwards. Only six months in to the new Tory era and the indications for public services are gloomy indeed.

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