Operation delays to cut costs criticised

Operating theatre STO-170630-145609001
Operating theatre STO-170630-145609001

The Clinical Commissioning Group responsible for spending on NHS patient care in the Sleaford, Grantham and Stamford area has been singled out in the national press for adopting a policy of delaying some non-urgent operations to save money until the end of the financial year.

According to the Daily Telegraph, NHS officials have introduced new limits which mean patients will be made to wait at least three months for routine surgery, such as hip, knee and shoulder operations and cardiac procedures.

The South West Lincolnshire CCG has been highlighted as one such body, despite criticism from the Royal College of Surgeons which warns that in some cases patients’ conditions could worsen, or lives could be cut short, by artificially delaying procedures, adding to pain and discomfort.

The average waiting time for operations in England is seven and a half weeks, but for patients in South West Lincolnshire that wait is now likely to be up to 12 weeks.

Other areas, such as Cambridgeshire and Peterborough previously abandoned similar plans after objections from patients and surgeons.

A CCG spokesperson told the Standard: “The NHS is funded to provide treatment for patients in line with the NHS Constitution, and has a responsibility to ensure public money is spent effectively and efficiently. We remain committed to ensuring all our patients receive high quality safe care in the right place at the right time within the 18 weeks standard.

“As part of 2017 contract discussions the CCG has agreed some NHS providers will not treat routine patients before 12 weeks except when a patient is receiving cancer treatment, is identified as ‘clinically urgent’ by their treating consultant, or is being treated at the same time as their first consultation.

“In these cases, treatment is provided based on clinical need as determined by their treating consultant.”

Healthwatch Lincolnshire said it has been made aware of plans by South West Clinical Commissioning Group to limit patient referrals to 12 weeks for certain conditions.

“Whilst this action is not specifically breaching any NHS regulations, we don’t really see how this is helping anyone,” said Sarah Fletcher, Chief Executive of Healthwatch Lincolnshire. “Any financial savings that are being recognised by the CCGs as a result of this decision is only in the short term.”

Mrs Fletcher added: “If a patient has been assessed as needing an operation then they will still need the operation in 12, 15 or 20 weeks’ time. On behalf of patients we are concerned about any deterioration in their conditions as a result of a delay in getting the right treatment.”

Healthwatch will be monitoring this situation and is keen to hear from any patients who have been told they will have a long wait. Contact them on 01205 820892 or email info@healthwatchlincolnshire.co.uk.