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Posted 4 April 2019

Report into NHS finds waiting times are not meeting expected standards

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On 22 March 2019 the National Audit Office published a report into NHS waiting times for elective treatment (which covers non-urgent cases) and cancer treatment. The Department of Health and Social Care has set waiting times performance standards for the NHS. These waiting times do not apply if a patient chooses to wait longer, or if there is a reason to delay treatment.

What are the standard waiting times for elective treatment and cancer treatment?

  • For elective treatment, 92% of patients should receive treatment within 18 weeks of referral.
  • For urgent suspected cancer cases, 93% of patients should be seen by a cancer specialist within two weeks of referral.
  • The government has also pledged that 85% of urgent suspected cancer patients should not wait more than 62 days from referral to first treatment.

The 18-week standard has not been met nationally since February 2016. Similarly, the 62-day standard for cancer treatment has not been met for any quarter since 2013.

The elective care waiting list grew from 2.7 million to 4.2 million between March 2013 and November 2018, while the number waiting more than 18 weeks grew from 153,000 to 528,000. This suggests that, unless the problem of waiting times is addressed, waiting times will only continue to increase in line with increased demand for care.

The report identifies certain factors which have contributed towards this increase, including: a growing number of referrals, capacity constraints (25% of delays in cancer treatment are due to lack of capacity); financial difficulties, persistent staff shortages, lack of available beds and pressure on staff from emergency cases.

Sadly, longer waiting times may lead to patient harm. Late diagnosis can have a significant impact on the effectiveness and severity of treatment, as well as a patient’s life expectancy. In turn an increased number of claims could result as 40% of clinical negligence claims are brought because of delays in diagnosis or treatment.

With reference to the ITV News article:

The NHS has made efforts to tackle waiting times standards by improving processes.

The report states that ‘it is hard to see how the NHS will be able to improve waiting times in the short term without significant investment in additional staffing and infrastructure capacity’. This could cost the NHS up to £700 million to implement, so it will be interesting to see whether the National Audit Office’s recommendations are put into effect.

I have been harmed by delayed diagnosis and treatment: how do I bring a claim?

If you have experienced delayed diagnosis or treatment which you believe has caused you harm, please contact one of our experienced lawyers for initial advice free of charge on 01392 207020 or email

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