UK & World News
Hunt Vows To End Year-Long Hospital Waits
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has announced a £250m drive to ensure patients will no longer have to face "unacceptable" waits of more than a year for NHS treatment in England, unless clinically necessary.
Over the next few months, the NHS will carry out more than 100,000 extra treatments to clear the backlog of people who have been waiting more than 18 weeks, including 40,000 patients who will be admitted to hospital.
Mr Hunt has also ordered a casework review of every patient waiting over or close to 52 weeks, to ensure they are not made to wait for an operation unless there are strong clinical reasons.
He acknowledged that the focus on "long waiters" will mean the NHS missing 18-week waiting-time targets over the coming months - but insisted that the 18-week target would be met again by the start of 2015.
He also highlighted a dramatic cut in numbers of people waiting 12 months or more for treatment, which has fallen from 18,458 when the coalition came to power in 2010 to 574 now.
Speaking to hospital staff in Guildford, Surrey, later he is expected to say: "No one - except in exceptional circumstances - should have to wait more than a year.
"We need targets that help patients get treatment when they need it, not targets followed blindly with no regard for the impact on individuals.
"An NHS confident that - in the end - it will continue to meet the huge challenges ahead if it leaves room, amongst many loud, competing pressures, for the quietest but most important voice of all: that of the patient."
England, like other countries, has an ageing population which is inevitably putting pressure on the NHS.
As a result, an extra 100,000 people a month are being referred for treatment compared to 2010, and hospitals are performing an extra 2,000 operations a day.
Despite this extra demand, the NHS has kept average waiting times below 10 weeks and fewer people are waiting longer than 18 weeks, a Department of Health spokesman said.