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Royal College of Surgeons warns patients are waiting too long for brain and spinal surgery

09 Feb 2017

NHS England performance data published today for December 2016 shows that the Government’s official waiting time target for planned treatment has been missed again. The percentage of patients treated within 18 weeks has fallen below 90% for first time since March 2011 (which was before the 92% target was introduced).

The data show that at the end of December 2016, the equivalent of 376,877 patients were waiting longer than 18 weeks for treatment. This means 89.7% of treatments had yet to start within 18 weeks, compared to 91.8% in December 2015. This means 100,000 more patients are waiting longer than 18 weeks for treatment since December 2015. The Government’s target is 92%.

The number of delayed days for transfers of care also rose 26.8% from 154,008 in December 2015 to 195,286 delayed days in December 2016. The A&E four hour target has again been missed with only 86.2% of patients meeting the target.

Neurosurgery is consistently the worst performing recorded treatment specialty - 83.2% of treatments had yet to start within 18 weeks in December 2016.  This is down from 87.4% in December 2015.
Mr Richard Kerr, consultant neurosurgeon and a council member of the Royal College of Surgeons, said:
“Patients who need brain  or spinal surgery are some of the sickest we will see in the NHS so it exceptionally worrying that they have some of the longest waiting times. As people live longer we are seeing an increase in tumours and degenerative spine conditions and this is putting pressure on neurosurgery departments which have been chronically underfunded for years.

“Alongside this, there have also been rapid advances in techniques, such as imaging and endoscopy, used to identify and treat spinal and brain problems.  More patients can now expect a good outcome and this may mean more are being referred for treatment.  When half of brain surgery is emergency work you can easily how emergency demands make it difficult for the NHS to cope with more planned operations.

“The emergency NHS pressures we’ve seen over the winter have also led to an unacceptable number of planned brain surgeries needing to be cancelled and rescheduled. As a surgeon it is heart-breaking to have to tell a patient scheduled for what will likely be life-changing surgery that they will have to wait longer for their operation.

“No one can now deny the NHS has reached a tipping point this winter and that unless the NHS secures extra funding, waiting times, and the anxiety and discomfort they cause patients will only get worse.”

Notes to editors

1.   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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