Jeremy Hunt 'broke law by abandoning NHS 18-week treatment target', says barrister

Health secretary 'acted unlawfully' by relaxing key waiting time target, Labour says

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt

Jeremy Hunt's failure to enforce a key NHS waiting time target was illegal, Labour has claimed, citing legal advice from a leading barrister.

The health secretary "acted unlawfully" by not requiring hospitals to provide patients with treatment within a maximum of 18 weeks, according to James Goudie QC.

Mr Goudie was asked by Labour peers whether Mr Hunt broke the law when he did not include a stated target that waiting times should not exceed this limit for 92 per cent of patients in his mandate to NHS England for 2017-18.

"My answer is: 'Yes'," wrote the Counsel, reported The Guardian, with Labour telling the newspaper the advice showed the Conservatives' NHS plans were "in total chaos".

The target that no patient should have to wait longer than 18 weeks after GP referral for non-emergency surgery, such as cataract operations and hip replacements, has been in place since 2004.

However the number of patients waiting longer than that is rising, with 10.1 per cent of patients waiting longer than that for an operation in January 2017 – up from 5.7 per cent at the start of 2013, as shown in the chart below created by Statista for The Independent.

Made by statista.com for The Independent

Changes announced by NHS England chief Simon Stevens in March mean patients could face longer waits for non-emergency surgery in a "trade off" for improved care elsewhere.

But politicians, charities and health bodies called the shake-up "appalling," saying elderly patients would be subjected to more "discomfort and pain".

A Conservative spokesperson said the party "do not believe there is a case to answer".

They added: "Indeed, we wholeheartedly reject any suggestion that the government is not committed to the 18-week target, and as the mandate itself clearly states, we are specifically requiring the NHS to return to delivering that standard."

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