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An open letter to UK party leaders: re-commit to 18-week maximum waiting time

14 Nov 2019

Dear Boris, Jeremy and Jo,

All three of your parties have supported a patient’s right to a maximum NHS waiting time. Labour introduced the 18 week target for planned operations in 2004, while the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats enshrined it in legislation in 2012.

However, despite being a statutory requirement, the 18-week standard has increasingly been forgotten. The target of 92% of patients receiving appropriate treatment within 18 weeks of referral, was last met nearly four years ago, in February 2016.

This summer’s figures show that only 85% of patients were seen within 18 weeks – a position that will likely worsen over the winter. At least 3,000 extra hospital beds are needed, alongside a boost to NHS recruitment and a swift resolution of the NHS pensions tax-trap.

The cross-party Public Accounts Committee was highly critical of the current state of elective waiting times in England when it reported this year.

We write to ask all three of you to renew your parties’ commitment to the 18-week maximum waiting time standard for planned care in the next parliament.

The 18-week standard is vital to people waiting for many types of elective surgery, including those waiting, in pain for hip, knee and other joint replacements. Latest figures show more than 650,000 people across the country have been waiting more than 18 weeks for their operation. In those months their physical condition can deteriorate, they can become depressed, suffer in pain or lose their jobs. The impact on both them and their families can be devastating.

In the absence of a clearly proven alternative, we regard the 18-week standard as a central element of the contract between the NHS and patients. We hope to see a clear cross-party commitment to upholding it – not just in law but in practice – in your election manifestos.

Yours sincerely,

Professor Derek Alderson
Royal College of Surgeons of England

Liam O’Toole
Chief Executive
Versus Arthritis

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