The NHS hidden waiting lists terrifying patients

Patients are facing delays stuck on hidden waiting lists that do not show up in the official figures in England, a BBC News investigation reveals. The published waiting list stands at 7.6 million – but the true scale of the backlog is thought to be much higher.

This is because patients needing ongoing care are not automatically included in those figures – even if they face major delays.

NHS England said hospitals should be monitoring and counting such cases. But BBC News found evidence suggesting this is not always the case.

The problem affects patients receiving ongoing care, as well as those removed from waiting lists even before starting treatment.

BBC News has spoken to patients waiting months and even years for vital treatment, such as cancer care, spinal treatment and others at risk of going blind because of deteriorating eyesight. One of those is Andy Allen, 69, from Chelmsford, who has wet AMD, which causes vision to deteriorate.

He needs regular eight-weekly injections to protect his sight, but says he often waits longer with the latest gap being more than twice as long as it should be.

“It’s really worrying. My eyesight is getting worse – and I do wonder if it is because of the delays. Age-related macular degeneration affects more than 600,000 people in the UK
Macular Society charity chief executive Cathy Yelf called the delays in the system a “tragedy”.

“People are terrified at the prospect of losing their sight,” she added.

The official waiting list tracks only patients waiting to begin treatment. Around 1.4 million treatments are recorded as beginning each month on average – with one in three affected by delays, according to data for 2022-23.

But there are more than 3 million other appointments and treatments carried out for patients who are receiving ongoing care.

Many will be getting timely care, but how many of those are delayed is not known. Some say millions could be affected over the course of a year. Hospitals are meant to return patients facing unnecessary delays to the waiting list to ensure they are counted in the backlog figures. But of 30 NHS trusts asked by BBC News how regularly this was happening, only three could provide figures.

Karen Hyde, from Insource, a company that helps hospitals manage waiting lists, said the guidance was “commonly ignored”. This is a huge issue. The NHS does not incentivise hospitals to keep a close eye on these patients.

“We know there are long waits for those on the waiting list. For those not on the official waiting list, it is likely to be even worse – but the figures are not published. She said another problem was that some patients face being taken off the waiting list before treatment starts – this can be done when the patient is not ready for treatment or if they have refused it.

But she said many hospitals had no reliable systems for tracking these patients, who could be simply “lost and delayed”.

Source: BBC

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