Healthcare :: Diagnostic waiting times fall further – UK

Health Minister Andy Burnham today welcomed the progress that has been made in reducing diagnostic waiting times.

In July the Department published the first ever diagnostic waiting time data for January to April 2006.

Latest figures for September show the average length of time a patient can expect to wait for a test has fallen from around 7 weeks in April to around 5 and a half weeks now.

Reducing diagnostic waiting times is central to delivering a maximum 18 week wait by 2008. Since January this year, the Department of Health has collected monthly waiting time information for 15 key diagnostic tests. This new data has allowed the NHS, for the first time, to complete the picture of how long patients are waiting and their average expected wait.

Health Minister, Andy Burnham said:
“This is good news for patients and the public. It means that as waiting times for diagnostic procedures continue to fall. People are being diagnosed and treated quicker. It also means their experience of healthcare is improving – faster diagnosis means less anxiety for patients, which is what patients told us they wanted.

“We’ve said that, by 2008, patients will not have to wait longer than 18 weeks from GP referral to hospital treatment. Tackling some of the bottlenecks in diagnostics is fundamental to delivering this target and I’m delighted that the data released today shows that step by step, good progress is being made. But, of course, we have still got some way to go.

“Of course, it’s NHS staff and clinicians who are making this happen and I’d like to thank them for their continued efforts to reduce diagnostic waiting times.”

Monthly data for the 15 tests, at the end of September 2006 show that:

– in total, patients were waiting for around 776,500 tests. This is a decrease of 2,600 since August 2006 (0.3%) and over 23,000 since April
– patients were waiting over 6 weeks for 352,000 tests. This is a decrease of around 20,000 since August 2006 and 52,400 since April 2006.
– patients were waiting over 13 weeks for 179,600 tests. This is a fall of around 6,400 since August 2006 and over 23,500 since April.

By test:

– the number of over 13 week waits for the four endoscopy tests we collect monthly (colonoscopy; flexi sigmoidoscopy; cystoscopy; and gastroscopy) has fallen by over 8,500 since April to nearly 32,000 now;
– over 13 week waits for echocardiography has fallen by over 2,300 since April to 10,700
– the number of over 13 week waits for MRI and non-obstetric ultrasounds have fallen by over 2,300 and 3,600 respectively since April

This new monthly data collection of diagnostic waiting times has clearly driven some improvements for patients already. However, the data does illustrate the scale of the challenge involved in delivering the milestones towards achievement of 18 weeks and in particular that there is a issue in audiology.

To tackle this issue, we will be collecting additional information about audiology waits and will publish this from December. In the short term this will show an increase in the number of diagnostic audiology waits. However, as with wider diagnostic waits, we expect the data to help drive improvement in this area.

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