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NHS Waiting Times Rise By 6% Despite Fewer Operations Taking Place

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Lansley has denied claims that waiting times are longer
Lansley has denied claims that waiting times are longer

NHS patients are having to wait longer to have surgery and fewer operations are taking place, according to new data.

Waiting times went up by an average of 6% from 2010 to 2011, with patients requiring a new knee having to wait nearly days for an operation, the report found.

But the Department of Health said that admissions are up 3.5% year-on-year, while waiting times have either fallen or remained at low levels.

It contradicts the Patients Association report, based on information supplied by 93 of England's 170 acute NHS trusts, which found that waiting times for hernia surgery increased by almost eight days, adding just over a week on the 70 day average.

Hip surgery was delayed by 93.8 days, the removal of gallstones involved an 80.6-day wait, while cataract removal required a wait of 65.9 days.

The study found that there were over 18,500 fewer operations carried out across the nine areas included in the research compared with 2011. This accounted for a 4.6% reduction in the number of operations.

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The trusts were asked to provide waiting time figures for hip, knee, hernia, bariatric surgery, tonsillectomy, adenoid and gallstone operations.

Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: "Patients are calling our helpline to tell us that they are being left to wait in agony, and that their desperate calls to the hospital for help are being ignored."

She added: "Action must be taken now to ensure that the upward trend on waiting times and downward trend for the number of procedures conducted does not continue into 2013 and beyond.

"There needs to be transparency about waiting times for particular procedures, and problem areas need to be tackled."

But Health Secretary Andrew Lansley completely contradicted the study, saying were fewer patients than ever waiting "a long time" for treatment.

"The number of people waiting over a year for treatment has reduced by two thirds since we came into office and the average time patients have to wait for treatment is at the same level as two years ago," he said.

"At the same time the number of NHS operations is increasing and more patients than ever before are being treated.

"We publish waiting times for different areas of medicine and surgery once a month, every month. They show that the average time that patients wait in areas that cover the operations selected by the Patients Association such as orthopaedics, eye medicine and general surgery have either fallen in the last year or remain stable at very low historical levels."

According to statistics from the Department of Health, patients admitted to trauma and orthopaedics departments waited 12.6 weeks in January 2012, down from 12.8 weeks last year. Ophthalmology waiting times for the same period were reduced from 10.7 weeks to 10.2, while general surgery remained at 8.6 weeks.

Its data showed that for non-admitted gynaecology patients, waiting times fell from 3.8 to 3.4 weeks, and rheumatology patients were delayed by 5.8 weeks, down from 6.8 weeks the previous year.

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