'Patients in South have longest surgery wait'

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Hospital treatment is being decided by a new north-south divide – with people in the prosperous South-east having to wait longest for surgery, according to new research.

In parts of the Home Counties patients are having to wait up to six-and-a-half weeks longer than people in other parts of the country requiring the same operation.

An independent think tank, The Centre for Economic and Business Research, found that the delay between seeing a GP and having an operation varied from 180 days in the Trent area to 217 days in the South-east.

The research, using Department of Health figures, was sponsored by Health Care Navigator, a company which advises on and organises private health cover. It showed that in the Northern and Yorkshire regions the wait was 182 days and in the North-west 193 days, while the average wait in London was 207 days and in the Eastern region 206 days. The CEBR said it was surprised by the extent of the differences in waiting times which it believed "must be linked to the retention and recruitment of staff".

Its analysis of figures showed that the regional differences were growing, with an average rise in delays of 1.6 days in the South-east over the past 12 months. Over the same period, waiting times in the Trent region fell by 8.7 days.

Ear, nose and throat surgery waiting times showed the greatest discrepancy, with those living in the South-east having to wait eight-and-a-half weeks longer than people in Trent.

The Department of Health, which has promised that no one will have to wait more than six months for non-emergency operations by 2005, rubbished the findings, saying they were based on "unsound mathematics" because less than half of all patients who are referred to hospital by their GP go on to have an operation.

It pointed out that vacancy rates for consultants were running at about 2 per cent and the number of unfilled midwife and nursing jobs was also falling.

But the Liberal Democrats' health spokesman Evan Harris said the report showed that patients were suffering because of staff shortages exacerbated by low salaries and high house prices. "Many of the Government's schemes are too modest. Real investment in staff is the only way forward."