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Latest waiting time stats: one year waits halved in October

19/12/2011
by Rob Findlay

Wow. Just wow. The number of English patients waiting more than a year has halved in October, to 10,911 (down from¬†20,052 in September). Just one Trust (Sheffield) has more than 1,000 one-year waiters, down from five Trusts in September. All specialties reflect the change, and it’s huge.

Alright, probably most of this was due to validation and data cleaning. But that is still a worthwhile thing to do, because unless very-long-waiting patients are validated there is no way of telling who really needs treatment and who is a data error. This is comfortably the best performance ever recorded by the NHS on one-year RTT waits, and I look forward to further gains as the new waiting-list target beds in.

A full set of stats with time trends can be downloaded in our waiting times fact checker here: Gooroo NHS waiting times fact checker.xls

So what about the new target that 92 per cent of the waiting list (incomplete pathways) should be within 18 weeks? Here’s the trend, and it shows how long 92 per cent of waiting list patients were waiting each month, England-wide.

All specialty trend - 92% of the waiting list
All specialty trend - 92% of the waiting list

At the time of the General Election, May 2010, the NHS in England came within a whisker of achieving the new target. Then things deteriorated towards winter and, apart from a summer blip, have been pretty much improving ever since then. We are in a much better position now than we were a year ago.

This overall picture is replicated at specialty level too. The specialty chart is pretty congested (there are 20 specialties on it), but you can see that all specialties are broadly moving as a pack. Even neurosurgery, which was breaking away as a problem area, is coming back down again now.

Specialty trends - 92% of waiting list
Specialty trends - 92% of waiting list

The Operating Framework insists that the new target is met in every Trust and every specialty, and the next chart shows what proportion of Trust-specialties are achieving it already. (This analysis includes all 2,251 Trust-specialties where at least 100 patients were on the waiting list.)

Provider-specialties achieving target
Provider-specialties achieving target

The above chart replicates the overall picture on over-18-week waiters: record-breaking performance at the time of the General Election, a decline over winter, and then an improvement which is being sustained. But it still shows that one-third of provider specialties are not achieving the target, so much of the NHS has work to do to get through winter and achieve the target next year.

Who has the longest waiters? Here’s the top twenty, ranked by the 92nd centile waiting time (and showing the number of one-year waiters too).

Top twenty Trusts
Top twenty Trusts

The total number of patients waiting continues to follow the seasonal trend of recent years:

English waiting list
English waiting list

This is interesting in itself. How can the NHS be maintaining its waiting list so precisely? Somehow the system must be responding in minute ways to preserve the status quo. Surely, if we can keep the waiting list static, we could steadily reduce it too? One day, perhaps, we will cease to be satisfied with maintaining a waiting list and just get rid of it. It’s always nice to have a dream.

How hard are we all working? Here’s the activity trend for admitted patients:

English admissions
English admissions

Again, an exact mirror of recent years. No sign of an austerity crunch, and no increase in productivity either.

The overall verdict? Steady as she goes, really. The trends suggest that we are heading for a repeat of last year. That means winter waiting list pressures when everybody downs elective tools for Christmas and New Year, followed by a recovery in the Spring.

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