Sarah Kate Templeton in The Sunday Times on 16th March reports on the reality of delayed testing and poorer cancer results compared to Europe: 60% jump in patients kept waiting past scan deadline – Bringing back the fear, and the figures are worse for Wales!
“MORE than 13,300 NHS patients were waiting more than six weeks for tests to diagnose diseases, including cancer, in January — the highest number reported for almost three years.
In the past year alone, there has been a 60% increase in the number of patients waiting six weeks or longer.
The lengthy delays are a breach of the NHS constitution, which promises that patients will not wait more than six weeks for scans and investigations.
The NHS failed to meet its target of less than 1% of patients waiting six weeks or longer for key tests such as an MRI or CT scan.
The number of patients experiencing waits of more than three months (13 weeks) for a diagnostic test has doubled under the coalition. The number of patients affected increased from 599 in January 2010 to 1,197 in January this year.
As well as MRI and CT scans, the 15 key tests include four types of endoscopy and echocardiography for heart disease.
Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, who uncovered the figures, said: “After a decade of progress, waiting times for crucial tests are growing longer and prolonging the worry and stress for thousands of families. The prime minister must take personal responsibility to get cancer care back on track.”
Emma Greenwood, Cancer Research UK’s head of policy, said: “England has lower cancer survival rates than the best-performing countries in the world…..”……
“In Wales . . . 33% of patients wait more than eight weeks to access diagnostic tests — 33%, a third,” he said. “In England, only just over 1% of patients wait longer than six weeks for the same. I think the comparison speaks for itself.”
Welsh patients are flocking to England for crucial tests and scans, amid warnings of a crisis in the NHS in Wales.
One in three patients in Wales waits more than two months for an MRI scan, an ultrasound or other diagnostic test, and patients appear to be turning to English hospitals to avoid a long delay.
In January the number of Welsh patients who waited more than 36 weeks for tests reached a record 16,109, according to figures released at the weekend. Unprecedented waiting times have been highlighted by a Labour MP who says that health chiefs in the Principality are failing to get to grips with struggling hospitals. Ann Clwyd, MP for Cynon Valley, says that half of Welsh patients wait at least six weeks for an MRI scan, compared with 1.2 per cent of patients in England.
Department of Health figures seen by The Times show that the number of Welsh patients coming to England for tests has doubled in the past four years.
In 2009-10, 5,419 patients living in Wales came to England for outpatient diagnostics, rising to 10,424 by 2012-13.
A spokeswoman for Ms Clwyd said that this confirmed her impression from the many letters she received from Welsh patients forced to use English hospitals or go private.
The figures come in the midst of a bitter battle over the true state of the NHS in Wales, with some campaigners claiming that Cardiff is sitting on a “Welsh Mid Staffs”. The dispute has become political, with Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, keen to highlight problems in the Welsh NHS to attack Labour.
A Conservative health spokesman said: “Patients in Wales will be concerned that there, where the NHS is run by Labour, the A&E performance target has been missed since 2009, and a third of patients wait more than eight weeks for important diagnostic services.
“In England, just over 1 per cent of people face a comparable wait — and so it’s unsurprising we are seeing a significant rise in the number of Welsh patients coming over the border for diagnostic tests.”
Figures for ten key tests given to Ms Clwyd by the NHS on both sides of the border show that many more patients in Wales than in England face long waits. In December there were 31,958 patients waiting more than six weeks in Wales, compared with 7,886 in England.
The Royal College of Surgeons has raised concerns over Welsh waiting lists, pointing out that 152 patients have died in the past five years waiting for operations at the University Hospital of Wales, in Swansea, and Morriston Hospital. “This is further firm evidence of the crisis facing the NHS in Wales. These are record-breaking figures of the worst kind, and are a further warning sign of deep problems in the Welsh NHS,” Ms Clwyd said.
“Prompt diagnosis is essential to detecting and managing the most serious of medical problems. Treatment decisions cannot be made until diagnosis has taken place, and conditions may worsen, often catastrophically, while people wait for diagnosis. I have had numerous letters from Welsh patients who have felt obliged to pay for tests privately because of the long waits, and feel failed by NHS Wales.”
A Welsh government spokesman said: “Access to diagnostic tests is improving and only last week we announced more than £5 million towards cutting waiting times for these tests.
“Every day, thousands of people from England are treated in Wales and vice versa. Indeed, more than 20,000 English residents are registered with Welsh GPs.”
This last comment is cant. Of course there will be people living adjacent to the border for whom “free prescriptions” are more important than longer waiting times for investigations… until they are ill and then they can register with an English GP ….