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Health Services: Waiting Lists

Volume 490: debated on Monday 30 March 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what account the 18-week target for time from GP referral to start of hospital treatment takes of a patient’s request for a second opinion following referral. (267706)

The 18-week commitment covers all consultant-led elective services. From 1 January 2009, the minimum expectation of consultant-led elective services will be that no one should wait more than 18 weeks from the time they are referred to the start of their hospital treatment, unless it is clinically appropriate to do so or they choose to wait longer. It includes all appointments including those for diagnostic tests between referral and first definitive treatment.

Nationally, the national health service overall has met the minimum operational standards for 18 weeks—in each month since August 2008.

Referral to treatment data for January 2009 show that:

92.9 per cent. of patients whose treatment involved admission to hospital started their treatment within 18 weeks. The median time waited for admitted patients was 8.6 weeks; and

97.3 per cent. of non-admitted patients waited 18 weeks or less. The median time waited for non-admitted patients was 4.6 weeks.

However, there will be occasions when treatment in 18 weeks may prove not to be possible for good clinical reasons. This may include where a patient and consultant agree that a patient should receive a second expert opinion and it is not in the patient’s best clinical interests to be treated in under 18 weeks. A maximum of 18 weeks should remain the clear goal for every patient.

A key principle for 18 weeks is that any decision that a patient will not receive their treatment in 18 weeks, however legitimate this is, should be explicitly communicated to both the patient and their general practitioner.