According to new figures released by the government, twice as many people are waiting over six weeks for NHS hospital cancer tests than before the last election. The official limit set by the NHS for the length of wait for tests is six weeks, but figures show that in October 2013 there were 5,200 people still waiting past this six week figure compared with 2,500 people in the second half of 2009.
The government was quick to respond to these new figures, and suggested that the reason why people were having to wait longer was down to a larger number of people being referred to a hospital for testing in recent years.
There is a legal requirement for all NHS Trusts to keep records of how long it takes to give patients appointments for important diagnostic tests such as CT or MRI scanning, and tests for certain types of cancer. Over recent years, there has been a high degree of fluctuation in the numbers of patients waiting more than six weeks for the 15 categories of diagnostic testing which are covered by the statistics gathered by the NHS. Since October 2009, there has been a five-fold rise in the number of patients waiting more than 13 weeks, from 142 to 711.
The NHS Watchdog, Monitor, has flagged up issues such as the government restructuring of the Strategic Health Authorities, which they say “disrupted” the correct process of collecting waiting times figures. Another factor is that increasing pressure on A&E departments, resulting in a reduced number of beds, doctors and equipment to perform non-emergency tests in other parts of the hospital.
In response to these figures, a Department of Health spokesperson stated that in October 2013, 1.6 million tests were carried out by the NHS. This was up 4% compared with the number of tests carried out in the same period of 2012. The spokesperson also confirmed that action was being taken within the NHS to reduce waiting times as much as possible.
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