LETTER: Salisbury NHS patients safe

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The Independent Online
THERE WERE serious mistakes in your article about funding problems in the NHS around Salisbury ("Patients abandoned under two-tier NHS", 15 October).

You claimed that only private patients and those from GP fundholders are now getting routine operations in Salisbury. In fact, patients of non-fundholders are getting them too.

You claimed that Salisbury Health Care has cancelled non-emergency surgery for patients of non-fundholding practices for at least six months. In fact, many patients of non-fundholding practices will be admitted from the waiting lists during the next six months.

I explained the facts to your reporter, but these were given only a brief mention: "Christopher Mould ... admitted there was a 'slowing down' of treatment for patients of non-fundholders." Some readers will know that's not the same as stopping.

Since the beginning of the NHS internal market in 1991 there have been different waiting-list targets set by different purchasing health authorities and GP fundholders. There is no secret about this.

Our hospital consultants are not, as claimed, "incensed" and have not "criticised hospital management for continuing to take in patients for whom payment is guaranteed". Like me they are realists and, for certain, they are not suggesting we cancel or postpone more patients, nor that we close more hospital beds.

The article underplays two issues that really are important. The patient referred to in the article had her hopes raised and was disappointed. She feels, as a result, that a six- to seven-month wait for a routine operation is poor service when it's actually well below the national targets set for the NHS and better than the experience of thousands of other patients. I'm very sorry that the information we provided to this patient caused her disappointment and I have investigated to see if we could have avoided it.

Secondly, when funds in the NHS are limited and unplanned admissions to hospitals increase, (extra emergencies, for example) something has to give. In our case it's been waiting-list patients from Wiltshire and Bath Health Commission having to wait longer. But, unhappy though it is, who would argue that heart attacks should not take priority over hernias?

Christopher Mould

Chief Executive

Salisbury Health Care