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NHS reform Thursday, 27 July, 2000, 16:14 GMT 17:14 UK
Improving patient service
A patient-focused NHS
Waiting times will be critical to the NHS reforms
Waiting is a key problem in the NHS - but the government has pledged to reduce it substantially.

This is part of the plan's pledge for the NHS to become more patient, or "consumer" orientated.

Waiting times for out-patient appointment will be cut to three months and waits for inpatient operations to six months by 2005.

Main ideas
Hospital waiting times to be reduced to three months for out-patient appointments and six months for in-patient operations
Community Health Councils to be replaced by Patient Advocacy and Liaison Service
Guaranteed GP appointment within 48 hours by 2004
Cancelled operations to be rescheduled within 28 days
Patient representation on NHS Modernisation Agency and National Independent Panel

The government expects the average wait for an operation to be between three months and seven weeks.

Patients whose operations are cancelled for non-medical reasons will be guaranteed surgery within 28 days, even if that means that the NHS pays for the treatment in a private hospital.

Ministers are hoping that a computerised booking service for operations will not only do away with paperwork, but also inspire more efficiency in hospitals and allow them to shorten lists, as well as stopping patients being referred to consultants when they do not need to be.

Casualty changes

Patients travelling to A&E for minor injuries often face many hours of waiting, particularly at busy times.

The plan says that by 2004, no-one should wait longer than four hours from arrival to admission in A&E - and average times are expected to be in the region of 75 minutes.

The plan also aims to do away with "trolley waits", where patients needing admission to hospital are left for long periods on trolleys because of a shortage of beds.

Delays in getting to your GP will also be tackled. By 2004, patients will have the right to have a GP appointment within 48 hours.

A "primary care professional" - a trained nurse in most instances - should be available inside 24 hours to deal with more minor afflictions.

Repeat prescriptions will be computerised and available simply by going to the pharmacist.

Patients will be able to get much more information about their GP - statistics detailing every surgery's performance against guidelines on heart disease, stroke, and mental health will be published, along with the number of patients that surgery has removed from the list in the previous year.

Outside surgery hours, the telephone helpline NHS Direct - expected to be available eventually through digital television sets - will be a "one-stop-shop" for health services, passing on urgent calls to GPs on duty where appropriate.

Every hospital will have a patient representative on its board to champion the interests of the public. This is part of the new Patient Advocacy and Liaison Service, which will replace Community Health Councils.

Complaints revamp

The government has also promised to rework the NHS complaints system to make it more independent and transparent.

Patients will also be represented in the new NHS Modernisation Agency - the body responsible for overseeing change.

Representatives will also sit on the new National Independent Panel, which will decide on major hospital changes, such as closures.

Hospital waiting lists will be tackled by employing 1,000 GPs to carry out specialist treatments and to take referrals from other GPs.

Special centres dedicated to particular operations such as cataract surgery or hip replacements will work 24 hours a day to reduce hospital queues.

See also:

30 Jun 00 | Health
15 Jun 00 | Health
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