NHS Delivers Shortest Wait Times

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The NHS is celebrating the shortest waits since its records began, Health Secretary Alan Johnson announced today.

New data shows that across England the NHS has met its target to treat patients within a maximum of 18 weeks from referral by their GP - an achievement that was unimaginable 12 years ago. The average wait for treatment for admitted patients is now just 8.6 weeks.

Time spent waiting is important to patients, which is why the NHS made it a priority to reduce waiting times. This has made a significant difference to the treatment experience of millions of patients:

* Over 250,000 patients have a cataract removed every year. The average referral to treatment time for these patients has reduced by half, from 20 weeks in March 2007 to 10 weeks in January 2009.

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* Hardness of hearing and deafness affect the lives of large numbers of people. The NHS treats over 400,000 patients every year referred directly from primary care to audiology departments where the average wait from referral to treatment has been dramatically reduced and is now around 5 weeks.

* 125,000 patients are admitted for heart treatment1 each year, over 40,000 of whom have a heart bypass or angioplasty2. The average referral to treatment times for these patients has reduced by half, from 14 weeks in March 2007 to 7 weeks in January 2009.

Health Secretary Alan Johnson said: "Twelve years ago it was not uncommon for patients to have to wait well over 18 months for an operation. Achieving the shortest waits since NHS records began is a tremendous achievement for staff and I congratulate them for all their hard work. Meeting the standard nationally five months before it came into effect, shows the commitment of the whole health service to improving patients' experiences.

"This has improved the lives of millions of people. Every year the NHS carries out 60,000 hip operations, in the last two years the waiting time for this procedure has fallen from around 30 weeks to 12 weeks. It's not just patients that benefit from this, clinicians also value the difference it makes to the quality of care they provide."

Barbara McLaughlan, Campaigns Manager at the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), said: "RNIB welcomes the fact that the NHS has been able to meet the 18-week target for cataract operations. If removed early, cataracts are likely to have a minimum impact on a patient's quality of life. Prompt removal of cataracts allows patients to avoid the risks of loss of independence, higher risk of falls and a much-reduced quality of life."

There are still a small number of trusts and specialties not meeting the standards and the Department of Health is working with them to ensure that all patients receive the same high standard of care. However, even in areas where the operational standards are not being met, patients have still experienced a significant improvement in waiting times.

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