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Last Updated: Friday, 13 May 2005, 10:54 GMT 11:54 UK
Sharp drop in hospital op waits
Image of an operation
The numbers waiting for an operation have been falling over recent years
There has been a sharp drop in the number of people waiting over six months for an operation, figures show.

Some 40,800 people were waiting more than six months in England at the end of March - a 32.5% fall in a month.

The decrease has been largely achieved through a focus on orthopaedic surgery, such as knee and hip operations.

And a separate report by NHS chief executive Sir Nigel Crisp has shown the health service is ahead of target for treating heart and cataract patients.

The government said the waiting time figures, which are published on a monthly basis, showed the NHS was on target for meeting its commitment to ensure no patient waits longer than six months for treatment by the end of the year.

The fall from nearly 60,000 to 40,800 includes a 10,000 decrease in people waiting for orthopaedic operations after a government drive to tackle what was seen as a problem area.

WAITING LIST FIGURES
In March some 821,700 patients were waiting for an operation in England - a 2.8% fall on the previous month
Patients waiting for more than six months fell by a third to 40,800
Just 41 patients were waiting more than nine months
CPS:LINK HREF="" ID="4542009" STYLE="rightarrow">Reforms to carry on

The numbers on the overall waiting list also fell by 2.8% to 821,700.

Peter Mobbs, chairman of the British Orthopaedic Directors Society, which represents the country's leading clinicians, said the fall was impressive.

"But that does not mean it will be sustained for the rest of the year, what we have seen could be just an exceptional month."

The opposition parties have also been critical on the government's obsession with waiting list and times, which have been almost continuously falling since 2000.

Criteria

They have argued that the waiting criteria ignores the wait from GP referral to diagnosis, meaning many patients face long waits before they are entered on to the list.

The government has now set a new target for 2008 which includes diagnostic waits.

Sir Nigel's twice-yearly report said heart patients were being treated within three months by the end of March - three years ahead of schedule.

In 2000 some people were waiting over 18 months for operations.

And it said the target of making sure no-one was waiting more than three months for their first cataract operation - one of the most common carried out by the NHS - was met in January four years ahead of schedule.

The report also revealed more than 97% of patients spent less than four hours in A&E departments in the three months to March - in line with government targets.

Sir Nigel said: "We are now able to concentrate on making sure that the services we deliver are of a high quality and ensuring that we constantly strive to improve them."

Maura Gillespie, head of policy and public affairs at the British Heart Foundation, agreed treatment was improving for heart patients.

But she added: "It has only enabled us to catch up to where we should have been many years ago."

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the King's Fund, a health think-tank, said: "Sir Nigel has reason to be pleased - waiting times are coming down, accident and emergency services are improving and real progress in being made in tackling heart diseases.

"But this should not prevent us from recognising the fact that many services are still not good enough."

SEE ALSO
Health secretary's in-tray
07 May 05 |  Health
Blair promises fewer NHS targets
29 Apr 05 |  Election 2005
The waiting game
11 Feb 05 |  Health

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