When long-waiters are forgotten

by Rob Findlay

those who have already waited over 18 weeks must not be forgotten

said the Department of Health, following the release of last month’s RTT waiting times. Quite right too.

When patients are waiting very long times for treatment, it is easy to lose track of their needs. A jumble of data errors builds up, so that we don’t know which patients really do need treatment, and which don’t.

We still have 20,000 patients waiting over a year in England, so these problems are with us now. But things were much worse in the past. Back in 1992 patients were waiting more than 2 years, just for the inpatient stage of their treatment.

A national task force was formed, and while they were clearing the backlog they came across all kinds of things, some comical errors, but some awful tragedies as well. Here is an extract from a report they put together after visiting one hospital (with thanks to Anthony McKeever, the head of that task force, for providing it).



If they are to be taken literally, and are shown upon detailed enquiry to be accurate, the lists supplied to us reflect clinical problems and mismanagement over a number of years. Examples relevant in this context are:

> A lady apparently aged 117 listed nine years ago for a breast reduction.

> A man listed in 1987 who was offered an opportunity for an operation but was cancelled because of “no theatre time” and who has still not been offered another date.

> A girl listed as an infant because of a haemangiona (malformation of the blood vessels) on her wrist who is still waiting for the operation to correct it although she is now in her teens.

> A man whose need for an operation was confirmed after 10 years on the list – and who is still waiting for it two years later.

> A young girl listed for a rhinoplasty at aged 15 – who is now aged 28.

> A little girl listed for a scar on her right upper lip listed at 3 years of age, who is now 13 years old.

> A lady who is 48 years old listed 14 years ago for a revision of a scar.

> A lady who in 1980 was listed as requiring an operation to restore a congenital abnormality of the right breast who is still awaiting her operation 14 years later.

> A six year waiter identified as needing a further operation on his right ear to correct an earlier one (which had been unsuccessful).


The extreme multi-year waits should, thankfully, be well behind us now. But with over-one-year waiters still on the waiting list, there remains the risk of personal tragedies like those above. Until the longest-waiters have all been verified, and where necessary treated, that risk and uncertainty will remain.

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