Doctors want time limit on appointments

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PATIENTS SHOULD not be forced to wait longer than seven days to see their family doctor, or two weeks to see a consultant about an urgent illness, doctors' leaders said yesterday.

Presidents from Britain's royal medical colleges and doctors representing the British Medical Association demanded that the Department of Health adopt four new waiting list targets to "empower patients".

The Government has pledged to bring down the waiting list by 100,000 during this Parliament.

But Professor Sir Norman Browse, chairman of the Joint Consultants Committee, said the real waiting list, and the measure of the efficiency of the NHS, should be the number of patients who have not been seen within appropriate time limits. "The important thing we need to know is the number of patients we fail," he said.

Frank Dobson, Secretary of State for Health, has written to Sir Norman, saying that the Government "fully recognises the importance of ensuring that decisions about treatment for patients on NHS waiting lists are on the basis of clinical need".

The committee's targets say that a wait for a non-urgent appointment with a GP should never be longer than seven days. At present the situation is "very variable" across the country, Sir Norman said.

Patients who urgently need to see a consultant should be seen within two weeks and those with less urgent conditions should be seen within three months.

Patients waiting for a hospital to diagnose their condition should not have to wait longer than six weeks after the initial consultation, as waiting for a diagnosis can be the most stressful time.

People with urgent conditions should be admitted to hospital within two weeks, because further delay could lead to the illness worsening.

Those with serious disabilities, such as cataract and hip replacements, should be admitted within three months of being on the waiting list.

No patient with a less urgent condition should have to wait more than a year.

The committee also recommends that people on either GP or hospital waiting lists should have the waiting time deadline listed next to their name.

"There are lots of difficulties in getting the data but that doesn't mean one shouldn't encourage the attempt to do it," Sir Norman said.

Mr Dobson said that the department was "keen to see greater consistency across the NHS on this as part of the overall approach to modernising the waiting system".