GROWING delays for routine NHS operations risk fuelling negligence claims, a watchdog warns.
A record 4.2 million people are now on waiting lists for procedures such as hip replacements and cataract removal – up 56 per cent in four years.
Getty – Contributor Rising waiting times for surgeries could fuel an increase in negligence claims against the NHS
Just 86.7 per of patients are now being seen within 18 weeks, against a 92 per cent target.
It has been three years since the key standard has been met.
As a result, 528,000 sick Brits were left in discomfort for over 18 weeks in November, according to the National Audit Office.
Cancer patients are also facing record delays – with one in four now waiting too long for life-saving care.
More than 85 per cent of patients should start receiving therapy within 62 days of being referred by their GP.
But in January just 76.2 per cent were seen on time – the worst performance since records began in 2009.
The NAO report warns more patients may suffer harm and sue the NHS as waiting times continue to grow.
It states: “Given that 40 per cent of clinical negligence claims are brought because of delays in diagnosis or treatment, there is a risk that longer waiting times may lead to an increasing number of future claims.”
ONE IN FOUR WAITING FOR LIFE-SAVING CARE
With waits growing, NHS bosses want to overhaul 18-week target for non-urgent operations.
Instead the standard could get longer or be replaced by average time until treatment starts.
The report warns that “incentives for achieving waiting times standards for elective care have been weakened or removed over the past few years”.
The NAO claims staff shortages and a lack of hospitals beds are also fuelling long waits.
It comes as a separate report shows a record 865,625 patients were rushed back to hospital within a month of being discharged in 2017/18.
Emergency readmissions were up 10 per cent in four years – sparking fears people are being sent home too soon.
NHS Digital data shows they reached 13.8 per cent in 2017/18.
Dr Taj Hassan, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said: “These figures show the impact that a lack of beds and social care is having on emergency departments.
“Many patients have to be unnecessarily readmitted as they do not have the assistance they need to look after themselves after they have been discharged.
“It is possible that the lack of beds means that some patients may be discharged too soon.”
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Sir Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “There has been insufficient progress on tackling or understanding the reasons behind the increasing number of patients now waiting longer for non-urgent care.”
An NHS spokesperson said: “As the additional funding to help deliver the NHS Long Term Plan becomes available from April, local health groups are being allocated the money they need to increase the amount of operations and other care they provide, to cut long waits.
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