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Wednesday, September 23, 1998 Published at 11:54 GMT 12:54 UK


Doctors say how long we should wait

Doctors want patients to wait no more than seven days to see their GP

No-one should have to wait more than seven days to see their GP, doctors are advising.

The Joint Consultants' Committee (JCC) of the British Medical Association has proposed targets for waiting lists.

Unlike the government's current targets, which are concerned only with the number of people on waiting lists, the committee's targets take a patient's clinical need into consideration.

The JCC divides patients into categories and recommends:

  • Patients with an urgent illness should not have to wait more than two weeks to see a specialist
  • people needing hospital treatment for an urgent condition should wait no longer than two weeks for admission
  • people should not have to wait more than seven days to get an appointment with their GP
  • people with serious disabilities like hip replacements should be seen within three months
  • patients who have been to hospital for tests should not wait more than six weeks for diagnosis from their first consultation.

The committee says waiting for diagnosis of a suspected condition can be extremely stressful for patients.

It also recommends that the waiting time deadline for patients should be listed next to their name on the waiting list.

It says that the NHS should be judged not on the total number of people waiting, but on the number of people waiting longer then the time specified for their category.

[ image: Professor Sir Norman Browse:
Professor Sir Norman Browse: "Clinical need"
Professor Sir Norman Browse, chairman of the JCC, said: "It is a problem when people are treated just to get the numbers down with no reference to clinical need."

Shortages of doctors were responsible for long waiting times in some areas such as radiology, he said.

Gathering waiting information would identify such problem areas.

Ministerial talks

The committee has engaged in "informal talks" with the Department of Health to get the recommendations implemented, Professor Browse said.

He sent a copy of the proposals to Health Secretary Frank Dobson in June.

In his reply, Mr Dobson reiterated the government's pledge to reduce waiting list sizes.

"That said," he continued, "We fully recognise the importance of ensuring that decisions about threatment for patients on NHS waiting lists are on the basis of clinical need."

He referred the recommendations to the Clinical Group on Access to NHS Elective Care but the BMA says the group has not yet responded to the paper.

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