Headlines: October 28th, 2005

The NHS plans in 2008 to reduce the time patients wait for an operation to 18 weeks from GP referral to hospital admission. Responsibility for managing waiting times will be transferred from hospitals to primary care trusts. This radical change raises many issues and the NHS wants the views of stakeholder organizations on shaping the new plans.Traditionally individual hospitals have been responsible for achieving targets to improve access and reduce waiting times, but some parts of the journey from referral, such as in-patient waits and out-patient waits and waits for diagnostics, have not been measured. By December 2008, the whole patient journey will be managed and measured as one. For the first time, primary care trusts will be responsible for ensuring all of the local health providers move patients as quickly as possible through the different stages towards treatment.

Changing the waiting time management arrangements needs agreement on new criteria such as working out when the clock should start and stop. A patient’s condition may require a delay to an operation for detailed diagnostic tests to be completed, or a person with a long-term condition may receive significant care with their GP rather than in a hospital. All of this must be factored into how the patient pathway is measured. Other principles and definitions that need to be agreed include deciding appropriate exclusions for various clinical cases and finding the most efficient ways to measure and manage the new pathway.

In line with the Department of Health’s commitment to listen more and as a practical means to get feedback readily, a new website has been created to get stakeholder views. The site is at: http://www.18weeks.nhs.uk/public/default.aspx. It provides a community forum where information and resources can be shared, where issues can be discussed and solutions developed.