NHS waiting lists show big increase: Delays of one year or more rise by 15 per cent

THE NUMBER of patients waiting a year or more for NHS hospital treatment has risen by more than 15 per cent over three months, according to health authority figures published today.

The increase, reversing the steady fall in the longest delays over the past year, came during the first quarter of the current financial year, when many health authorities and hospitals were struggling to clear overhanging deficits.

A survey of all 14 English regional health authorities by the Labour Party showed that in June overall waiting lists topped the 1 million mark for the third month in a row, reaching a record 1,016,262.

That represents a 9 per cent rise in the total number waiting since June last year. Over the same period, the number of patients waiting up to a year rose by 12 per cent to 951,381; while the total waiting between one and two years fell by about one- quarter to 64,881.

The comparison provides further evidence that many patients with serious, but not urgent, conditions are being forced to wait longer, while hospitals give priority to those with relatively minor complaints.

It comes in the wake of continuing complaints from doctors of a two-tier system operating in the National Health Service, whereby patients of GP fundholders are seen ahead of those from non-fundholding practices.

The Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre in Oxford agreed after protests this month to amend a memorandum to consultants guaranteeing hi-tech screening to non-urgent patients of fundholders within eight weeks of referral.

Over the year to June, the biggest growth in the total waiting occured in the North-east Thames and South-west Thames regions, where the numbers rose by about one-quarter to 97,310 and 60,816, respectively.

Regions that sustained increases of more than 4 per cent between March and June this year were Yorkshire, Trent, North-east Thames, South-west Thames, West Midlands, Mersey and North Western region. Only Wessex and the special health authorities, which oversee the London postgraduate teaching hospitals, saw waiting lists fall.

David Blunkett, Labour's health spokesman, said the survey revealed disturbing trends. 'When one considers that these figures don't include the many months people wait to get on the waiting list - before seeing a consultant - they illustrate the real anxiety and misery that lie behind the Government's health service reform failures.'

Brian Mawhinney, Minister of State for Health, said: 'It's the time that people wait that matters, not the total number. Half of all admissions into hospital are immediate. Of those on waiting lists, half are admitted within five weeks, nearly 75 per cent within three months and 98 per cent within a year.'

A move to hive off management of the NHS to a semi- autonomous executive agency would be strongly resisted by doctors, the British Medical Association warned yesterday. Jim Johnson, deputy chairman of the BMA's consultants committee, warned that such a move would further diminish the accountability of the service.

The idea is one of several being considered by ministers for a further reorganisation of the NHS, two years after the introduction of the internal market.

----------------------------------------------------------------- WAITING LIST FIGURES JUNE 1993 ----------------------------------------------------------------- June 1993 and % change since March 1993 0-11 months 12-23 months Number Change Number Change Northern 62,033 -0.3% 2,904 66.8% Yorkshire 72,248 2.1% 6,228 44.3% Trent 83,978 5.1% 5,889 -7.9% East Anglia 39,148 0.6% 3,339 3.2% NW Thames 54,757 1.4% 5,454 -5.4% NE Thames 87,708 2.9% 9,602 27.3% SE Thames 72,062 0.4% 6,362 0.2% SW Thames 57,376 3.7% 3,485 44.2% Wessex 58,663 -3.4% 4,589 11.3% Oxford 42,578 0.5% 2,503 -3.6% S Western 65,348 -0.6% 1,057 258.3% W Midlands 100,115 3.3% 4,488 33.9% Mersey 57,524 2.9% 1,053 378.6% N Western 88,015 3.7% 7,327 7.5% All Regions 941,553 1.8% 64,280 16.5% *SHAs 9,828 -11.6% 601 -47.6% TOTAL 951,381 1.7% 64,881 15.2% ----------------------------------------------------------------- *The Special Health Authorities are responsible for the London postgraduate teaching hospitals. No authority has anyone waiting more than two years. ----------------------------------------------------------------- Source: Labour Party survey of health authorities in England -----------------------------------------------------------------