GPs escape fines for waiting list delays

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The Independent Online
NATIONAL Health Service hospitals have been fined almost pounds 300,000 by the Department of Health for making patients wait too long for surgery, writes Nicholas Timmins.

The total over the first nine months of the financial year represents a sharp increase over last year when only pounds 45,000 was docked from hospitals. But, while more than 20 NHS hospitals have been penalised, regional health authorities have found they have no power to impose similar fines on GP fundholders when they keep patients waiting longer than the Government's 18-month target for hip, knee or cataract operations.

Figures provided by regional health authorities show that in the North West Thames region, 11 hospitals have been fined a total of pounds 138,000. The Wellhouse Trust, which covers Barnet and Edgware Hospitals, was given the largest fine, at pounds 48,000. North East Thames has fined eight hospitals pounds 149,000, while in South West Thames, six hospitals have picked up pounds 43,300 in fines. In the West Midlands pounds 30,000 has been clawed back.

Under the Patient's Charter, hospitals are 'fined', via their regions, the rough cost of the operation if they keep patients waiting more than 18 months for hips, knees or cataracts, or for keeping any patient waiting more than two years. The cash is deducted from the special waiting list allocations which totalled pounds 39m last year. The fines are then redistributed and used elsewhere in the NHS.

But Dr Andy Nicol, of the Wellhouse Trust, said: 'I don't see that it makes sense when resources are short to try to solve the problem by making resources shorter . . . We all want to provide a better service, and this does not seem a very adult way of approaching the problem.'