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Waiting longer for planned care incompatible with vision of a better NHS, warns RCS

31 Mar 2017

Two-and-a-half years on from the publication of the NHS Five Year Forward View, NHS England have published Next Steps On The Five Year Forward View, a new plan which sets out what has been achieved to date and the changes which will take place across the health service in key areas. The plan's three main priorities for the NHS are A&E performance, GP services and primary care, and cancer services. The 18-week waiting time target for elective surgery has been removed from the list of priorities for the next 12 months. 

Responding to the plan, President of the Royal College of Surgeons, Miss Clare Marx, said:

“The NHS is treating record numbers of patients with better outcomes, but it is now facing some of the biggest challenges in its history. Since the original Five Year Forward View we have a health service which is beginning to do more to cater for the needs of older patients and focusing more on prevention, not just treatment. Today’s report provides commendable leadership to the health service on how it needs to further change.

“Some of the initiatives announced today will help with the pressures on planned operations. It is absolutely right to look at how beds in hospitals can be made available by supporting patients to receive care and support in the community. We also welcome NHS England’s plan to look at protecting planned surgery facilities from the impact of high numbers of emergency patients needing beds. Surgeons will continue to play their part in developing new models of care which will free up capacity in our hospitals and help patients receive the surgery they need.

“However, we are concerned that the 18-week waiting times target for surgical treatment has now effectively been jettisoned in all but name having been dropped from the list of priorities for the next twelve months.  NHS England acknowledges that there will be continued pressure on waiting times for routine care and some providers’ waiting times will grow.

“Patients value and need timely access to planned surgery, like hip and knee replacements, to relieve pain and discomfort, and to maximise the benefits of treatment. The NHS has come a long way in improving waiting times, and outcomes from surgery are in many cases world-class. Alongside a lack of hospital beds and rationing of procedures to save money, today’s announcement means more patients will wait longer and in more pain before planned surgery. We risk returning to the days of unacceptably long waits for elective surgical treatment.

“We fully appreciate the pressures in the NHS and how in the current financial climate it is not possible to prioritise and fund everything. Nevertheless, it will be difficult for the general public to understand how waving the white flag on the 18-week target is compatible with a vision of an improved health service.”

Notes to editors

The Royal College of Surgeons of England is a professional membership organisation and registered charity, which exists to advance surgical standards and improve patient care.

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