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Thursday, November 11, 1999 Published at 07:34 GMT


'Four-year wait' for outpatient appointment

Health authorities have been ordered to cut waiting lists

Some patients in England are having to wait up to four years for an outpatient appointment in hospital, according to new research.

Health Minister John Denham defends the government's record
A study has shown that waiting times after referral by a GP are up to four years - or 208 weeks - for one orthopaedic surgeon.

The research by the charity, the College of Health, also shows patients are waiting 147 weeks and 145 weeks to see foot specialists in two separate hospitals.

The worst waiting time for an out-patient appointment in neurology was 126 weeks, with one example of a 95-week wait to see an eye specialist, the study showed.

Patients' pledge

Its findings have come after health authorities were ordered to reduce outpatient waiting lists by the government.

Figures published earlier this year showed the number of people waiting longer than 13 weeks for a first appointment with a consultant had risen.

Under the Patient's Charter, nine out of ten people referred by GPs to a specialist can expect an outpatient appointment before 13 weeks - with everyone seen before 26 weeks.

[ image: Dr Ian Bogle:
Dr Ian Bogle: "This is totally unacceptable"
The rise in waiting times has been blamed on the government's policy of reducing waiting lists. Patients are not included on official waiting list figures until they have had an initial hospital appointment with a specialist.

Joyce Robins, joint director of the pressure group Patient Concern, said: "This is what happens when you have a furore to get waiting list down.

"People are waiting longer and longer to see a consultant in the first place. It is much easier to leave people like that than to put them on a waiting list because then you have actually got to do something.

"It is horrendous. How much worse would a patient get in that time?"

Mr Richard Rawlins, an orthopaedic surgeon at Bedford Hospital and senior member of the British Medical Association's consultants committee, said it was "almost unconscionable" that a patient should have to wait 208 weeks for an outpatient appointment.

He said: "Either there are not enough local surgeons, or the general organisation of the service is not up to scratch. However one has to question why the patient's GP has not referred elsewhere.

"This is symptomatic of a system in strife. The plain fact is that we have a third to a half of the equivalent number of senior orthopaedic surgeons in this country compared to our colleagues in Europe or the US."

Dr Ian Bogle, chairman of BMA Council said: "It is totally unacceptable for patients to have to wait such an extraordinarily long time before they are seen as outpatients.

"This may be the first time that a patient is seen by the hospital specialist following referral by their GP. It can be a particularly distressing time for the patient who may not, at that stage, know what is actually wrong with them."

Minister pledges action

[ image: John Denham said the government would reduce outpatient waiting times]
John Denham said the government would reduce outpatient waiting times
Health Minister John Denham admitted that the figures were unacceptable.

He said: "There are undoubtedly people who are waiting far too long in the national health service and we are determined to tackle that.

"But let's be quite clear, four out of five patients will see a consultant at an outpatients within 13 weeks, and the average time that somebody waits to see a consultant is just seven weeks."

Mr Denham said it was planned that the NHS would see an extra 333,000 out-patients this year.

He said money would be invested in staff, and resources would be targeted at key killer diseases so that outpatient times were cut for those who were seriously ill.

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