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NHS makes good progress on waits

23 October 08 11:34 GMT

Ministers have praised the NHS in England for reaching an important milestone in the drive to get hospital waiting times down to 18 weeks.

The target means hospitals should be able to guarantee that 90% of in-patients and 95% of out-patients can be seen within the time-frame.

This latest data shows that, on average, the NHS is hitting both parts of the target.

But the overall figure masks problems in some areas and in some specialities.

While the NHS average is in line with the target, just under half of hospitals are meeting it.

Most of those missing it are just a few percentage points out, but some areas of London are seeing little more than two thirds of patients within 18 weeks.

Meanwhile, just eight in 10 orthopaedic patients - those needing hip and knee operations - and a similar number of neurosurgery patients are being seen within 18 weeks.

Health Secretary Alan Johnson said the challenges were "not insurmountable" and he expected all areas to achieve the target by the end of the year.

He added: "The figures published are the result of the hard work and dedication of NHS staff."


The progress comes after the government controversially tweaked its target a year ago.

Last November, ministers announced the 10% and 5% leeway from achieving the 18 week target for all, as they said some people were choosing not to be seen so quickly and for others it was not clinically advisable.

However, at the time critics accused the government of changing the goalposts to meet the target.

The 18-week goal is generally perceived to be the toughest of all the NHS targets Labour has introduced.

When it came to power, waits of over two years were not uncommon and while previous waiting time targets have just measured from the point of diagnosis, the 18-week clock starts ticking with the time of a GP's referral.

Ministers designed it like this to tackle the issue of "hidden waits" whereby patients found themselves waiting a long-time from GP referral to diagnosis.

Wales and Scotland have their own waiting time targets, but these are not as advanced as the English ones.

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