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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 May, 2004, 01:08 GMT 02:08 UK
NHS waiting time 'underestimated'
Image of surgery
Waiting times may often be much longer than people expect
People in Britain underestimate the time they would have to wait for an NHS operation, a survey suggests

The poll of 1,000 people, by TNS on behalf of Norwich Union Healthcare, showed most expect to wait five months for a hip operation.

Most wait nearer 11 months, independent medical researchers Dr Fosters said.

Patients also had unrealistic expectations for other operations and many said they did not know where to go to find out waiting times.

Waits 'improving'

For knee surgery, the public were prepared to wait for three months and expected to wait for five months.

The actual wait for a knee replacement is a year, data from Dr Foster suggests.

Two-thirds of those questioned said they would not know where to go to find information on waiting lists and a tenth did not realise they could access this type of information.

Dr Doug Wright, clinical development manager at Norwich Union Healthcare said: "People aren't necessarily taking advantage of the information that is available and they may be waiting several months for something like a hip operation in their area, when it could actually be done more quickly elsewhere."

Roger Taylor, research director at Dr Foster which gathered the data on current waiting times, said waits were improving thanks to government initiatives to reduce waiting times such as diagnosis and treatment centres.

'Speedier treatment'

"The increased use of diagnosis and treatment centres across the country is already beginning to have an incredible impact on NHS waiting times," he said.

For example, Hammersmith Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs the Ravenscourt Park diagnostic and treatment centre in west London, has seen waiting times for hip replacements drop from 204 days in 2002 to 30 days in 2003.

8 months for cataract surgery
11 months for a hip replacement
12 months for a knee replacement
5 months to repair a slipped disc
5 months for a hernia repair

Health Minister John Hutton said: "The indisputable facts are that patients are getting speedier treatment on the NHS.

"Hardly anyone now has to wait more than nine months and the average wait is now around ten weeks."

Tory spokesman Tim Yeo said: "Patients are being trapped unnecessarily on waiting lists.

"Labour's solution is to offer patients a limited choice of hospitals once the system has failed them. This is not enough."

Mr Richard Rawlins, orthopaedic surgeon at Bedford Hospital and BMA council member, said the reason for waiting times was chronic underfunding and understaffing since the NHS' conception.

He said: "The government is increasing capacity by investing money but I'm concerned as a surgeon that the arrangements are not in the patient's best interest.

"The individual patient may get their operation done quicker by the NHS funding treatment in the private sector but it will be with a different surgeon from the one they saw in the clinic.

"Quality of care is being compromised. The waiting lists are coming down but it's at a cost - a cost to the actual care of the patient who is getting a second class service.

"Waiting times for a second class service are coming down. But waiting times for a first class service are going up."

Norwich Union has developed a waiting list guide, called Personal Health Manager, to help people research how long they could expect to wait to have a procedure at different hospitals around the country.

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