Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Hospitals Race to Meet Waiting Times Deadline

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Hospitals Race to Meet Waiting Times Deadline

Article excerpt

Byline: ZOE MORRIS

HOSPITALS are frantically sending patients for costly treatment in the private sector and organising weekend and evening operating sessions in order to meet new NHS waiting time targets.

A Government pledge means that, by Monday, no patient must wait longer than 26 weeks for an outpatient appointment or 15 months for surgery.

However, figures obtained by the Evening Standard reveal that thousands of patients are still waiting to be seen.

Managers risk losing out on performance-related funding or seeing their trusts star rating downgraded if they do not meet the targets.

At the end of February more than 9,000 patients had been waiting more than 26 weeks for an outpatient appointment and must be seen by Monday's deadline under Health Secretary Alan Milbur n's 1 0 - ye a r improvement plan for the health service.

At the Barking, Havering and Redbridge Hospitals NHS Trust alone some 2,000 patients have waited more than 26 weeks for treatment. A further 1,300 at Queen Mary's Hospital in Sidcup are also waiting for their first appointment.

Despite the enormity of the challenge facing some trusts, however, all hospitals claim they expect to meet the 1 April deadline.

But health watchdogs warn that hospitals have been set an "impossible task" and the pressure managers are under will inevitably lead to the figures being "massaged".

The majority of hospitals have relied on sending patients to the private sector in order to meet the new targets. It costs approximately 40 per cent more to treat a patient using the private sector rather than NHS facilities.

At St George's Hospital in Tooting almost 800 patients had to be seen during March to reach the outpatients target.

Staff have been working evenings and weekends to provide additional clinics and operations. Patients have also been sent to the private sector.

Managers have warned that reaching the targets will put the trust [pound]3. …

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