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The number of people waiting for routine surgery has reached a 10 year high, NHS England has confirmed.
Official performance data showed 3.83 million people were waiting for non-urgent operations in June, but with six trusts not supplying data, the total number is expected to be over 4 million.
373,182 of those on the waiting list have also been waiting over the 18-week mark; a waiting time target was first introduced back in 2007 and designed to stop those on the list from having to endure excessive delays for common procedures such as hip replacements and cataract removals.
The total number of patients waiting for surgery has been steadily increasing from 3.5 million in 2016 compared to less than 2.5 million in 2009 and 2010. The increase in numbers has been attributed to unprecedented demand as well as the NHS performing more procedures than ever before.
Whilst these figures are no doubt in part due to the NHS having to prioritise more urgent operations, this does raise a concern about the potential impact of delayed routine surgery for those on the waiting list. This may include prolonged suffering or could impair recovery once surgery has been carried out. In cases where unreasonable delays in treatment have led to undue suffering, or where recovery from a condition will be reduced due to the delays, patients may be entitled to make a hospital negligence claim.
Whilst the lengthy delays have implications, those undergoing surgical procedures may also be exposed to increased risk due to surgeons and other medical staff being overstretched and therefore unable to provide sufficient safe care. In extreme circumstances, this may lead to mistakes and oversights from medical professionals and surgeons, such as failing to observe or diagnose more serious conditions, or even a never event – such as operating on the wrong body part or leaving medical apparatus inside a patient’s bodies in error, which may lead to patients pursuing a surgical error claim.
Derek Alderson, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, said:
“NHS England now say there may have been over 4 million patients waiting for treatment in June 2017. This is the equivalent of the city area population of Bristol, Liverpool, and Sheffield combined. These statistics should act as wake-up call. This is the real life impact of an NHS under severe pressure….. Making patients wait even longer than expected for surgery can create prolonged pain, uncertainty, and be highly stressful for them and their family.”
Whilst NHS England has confirmed they are working hard to reduce waiting times and are investing in ways to improve its services the latest figures form part of a worrying trend for medical negligence solicitors, Blackwater Law who continue to receive enquiries about medical negligence claims from patients who have been impacted by medical errors.