Advising with empathy and experience

Increase in surgery delays.

The number of patients waiting six months, or more, for surgery in England has tripled during the past four years, the Royal College of Surgeons says.

Almost 130,000 people had been waiting for operations in March 2017 after being referred to a consultant, compared with 45,000 in March 2013, although figures show that nine out of 10 patients were still treated within 18 weeks.

NHS England said: "The NHS has cut the number of patients waiting more than a year for treatment by nearly 13,000 during the past five years, and spending on non-urgent surgery is continuing to rise."

However, the surgeons said they were concerned that many more patients would wait longer for surgery in the future.

Earlier this year, NHS England chief executive, Simon Stevens, said growing pressures in the health service meant he could no longer guarantee treatment within the 18-week target time for operations such as knee and hip replacements.

The Royal College of Surgeons says this is resulting in more people waiting for between six and nine months for surgery in specialities including ear, nose and throat, brain and spinal, and general surgery.

The biggest increases in waiting times have been in dermatology and gynaecology.

In March 2017 nearly 20,000 people in England had been waiting for more than nine months for surgery, three times more than in March 2013.

At that time, six-month waits were at their lowest level and 94 per cent of patients were treated within 18 weeks. The average waiting time for planned surgery is now just more than six weeks, with 90.3 per cent or 3.3 million people treated in less than 18 weeks.

Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have also seen increases in the numbers of people waiting more than six months for planned surgery since 2013, although the figures are not directly comparable because of the way they are measured.

NHS England said: "While the Royal College of Surgeons understandably lobbies for more spending on surgeons, it is not the only call on constrained NHS funding, which also has to support extra investment in GP services, modern cancer treatments, and expanded mental health services."

President of the Royal College of Surgeons, Clare Marx, said: "It is unacceptable for such a large number of patients to be waiting this long in pain and discomfort for treatment. This is the grim reality of the financial pressures facing the NHS."

She said many of those patients were older and waiting longer for surgery could affect their quality of life and how well they recovered after surgery.

One major reason for the rise in waiting times was a shortage of NHS beds. She added: "When pressures in emergency departments rise, patients awaiting planned surgery can have their operations cancelled or delayed until more space becomes available.”