At the moment every NHS hospital has to meet the 18 week Referral to Treatment Target, that is the maximum amount of time between being referred by a GP to the NHS hospital providing the treatment must be less than 18 weeks, or 4.5 months. In my opinion 18 weeks is too long, it should be brought down to (initially) 8 weeks, and ultimately down to 2 weeks.
The problem is that restricting the length of waiting lists is expensive. For example, imagine you are a patient and you are referred to a hospital clinic that is only run every 10 weeks and the next two clinics are full, that will inevitably mean that your clinic appointment will be more than 20 weeks away and the hospital will fail the 18 week RTT. Hospitals must reach 98% of the 18 week target, so typically they monitor the situation until there are several people who have to wait more than 18 weeks and then put on a new clinic. This is often a good thing for patients because to justify a clinic the hospital will have to make sure there are enough patients and hence they may re-schedule other patients to have an appointment in this earlier clinic. Of course, the hospital wants to avoid this approach and so usually they make sure that there is sufficient capacity.
Because cutting waiting lists is expensive, the easiest way to make savings in the NHS is to allow waiting lists to grow. We saw how this cut price NHS worked in the 90s when typically you had to wait a year to have a cataract operation. During that time you would live with failing eyesight and so become economically inactive, but such things do not matter to Tories because their approach is that if you want the operation quicker you should pay for it privately (which I have shown in another post, means using out vastly over expensive private healthcare).
So now I see this tweet from Sally Gainsbury.
The reason for these changes are clear: it will save money. The effects are even more clear: we will return to 90s levels of waiting lists and long stays in A&E.
It is important that everyone contacts their MP to pressure Andrew Lansley to prevent waiting lists from growing. A key measure of this government should be how long waiting lists are, and by removing the targets waiting lists will inevitably increase.