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Warning over negligence claims as NHS waiting lists grow

Longer waits for treatment may cause patients harm, says National Audit Office

Longer waits for treatment may cause patients harm, says National Audit Office


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Negligence claims against the NHS may rise, along with the number of patients at risk of harm, as waiting times for treatment continue to grow, a report has warned.

The National Audit Office (NAO) report said at present about 40% of NHS compensation claims are due to delays in treatment or diagnosis, but this could rise if people are left on long waiting lists.

Waiting more than 18 weeks

NHS England is currently reviewing health service targets and could scrap the current 18-week target for treatment start times following referral.

The target covers non-emergency operations such as hip and knee replacements and cataract removal.

In January, 86.7% of patients were seen within 18 weeks. This is below the 92% target, which has not been met since February 2016.

The number of people on NHS waiting lists in England rose from 2.7 million to 4.2 million between March 2013 and November 2018, while the number waiting more than 18 weeks grew from 153,000 to 528,000.

‘There is a risk that longer waiting times may lead to patient harm and negligence claims against the NHS,’ the NAO report said. ‘For many people, longer waits result in inconvenience and the discomfort associated with living with a medical condition. But for others their condition may deteriorate and a longer wait for treatment may cause them harm.’

The report noted the reduction in the number of hospital beds as a factor in growing waiting lists, stating that trusts will treat emergency and cancer patients first due to the urgent nature of the treatment.

‘Significant investment needed to reach target’

It said that for the 18-week target to be met again, significant additional investment will be required: ‘We estimate that it would cost an extra £700 million to reduce the waiting list to the size last seen in March 2018, based on current trends.’

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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