By Laurie Whitwell /dailymail.co.uk
The Health Secretary has accused NHS managers of risking lives by making patients wait longer for treatment in a ‘cynical’ bid to save money.
Andrew Lansley spoke out after an official report found that surgery was being deliberately delayed so that patients will either go private or die before they reach the top of hospital waiting lists.
The claims are detailed in a report by the Co-operation and Competition Panel (CCP), an independent watchdog that advises the NHS.
It says unfair practices are ‘endemic’ in certain areas of England.
Mr Lansley said the report showed why the NHS needed to be reformed to put its huge budget into the hands of family doctors rather than bureaucrats.
‘This is exactly why we need to put patients’ interests first,’ he said. ‘Too many primary care trusts have been operating in a cynical environment where they can game the system – and in which political targets, particularly the maximum 18-week waiting time target, are used to actually delay treatment.
‘When GPs, specialist doctors and nurses are making the decisions, as they will under our plans, they will plan care on the basis of the clinical needs of patients and their right to access the best service, including the least possible waiting time.’
Patients in England have a legal right to start their hospital treatment within 18 weeks of referral by their GP.
But the CCP study says even though hospitals could see patients sooner, many are saving cash by introducing minimum waits of around 15 weeks for routine operations such as hip replacements and cataracts to cut the number treated this financial year. At least five million such operations are carried out each year in England.
The report follows a survey by GP magazine showing that two-thirds of primary care trusts (PCTs) in England are rationing treatments in the drive to reduce costs in the NHS by £20billion over the next four years.
Hip and knee replacements are being delayed until patients are in severe pain, while cataract operations are being withheld until sight problems ‘substantially’ affect a patient’s ability to work.
The CCP report says it was told by one PCT that it ‘sought to increase average waiting times from 13 to 16 weeks as a result of the PCT’s worsening financial position’.
It says some managers insisted that longer waiting times would lead to overall savings because ‘if patients wait longer then some will remove themselves from the list’. The panel said: ‘We understand that patients will remove themselves from the waiting list either by dying or by paying for their own treatment at private sector providers.’
The CCP report suggests that ploys to lengthen waiting lists will backfire: when treatment is delayed, more complex and expensive care can be required so money may not be saved in the long run.
It says: ‘At an individual level, making patients wait longer than necessary for treatment is likely to impose greater pain and inconvenience than is necessary.
‘The overall benefit to taxpayers is likely to be minimal.’
However, it says not all trusts impose minimum waiting times.
David Stout of the NHS Confederation, which represents trusts, reacted angrily to the report’s claims. He said it was a serious allegation that trust managers were expecting to make savings through the premature deaths of patients kept waiting.
‘Making claims without evidence that patients are dying as a result of longer waiting lists will cause unnecessary public anxiety and alarm,’ he said.
READ MORE OF THIS STORY HERE www.dailymail.co.uk