NHS surgeons at work. ‘It is a disgrace that patients are being denied access to operations they would have had if they had needed them a year ago,’ said Katherine Murphy of the Patients Association. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Hospital campaigners say they have discovered a “large fall” in the number of certain NHS operations performed in England last year.
The Patients Association expressed “great concern” that figures collected from a third of acute trusts showed a 5% drop in key surgical procedures and longer waiting times for some operations.
But the Department of Health said its own statistics suggested that more surgery was carried out in some areas highlighted in the survey as offering fewer operations.
The Patients Association said the evidence it had collected from freedom of information requests – so far answered by 62 of 170 trusts – “should act as a wake-up call to the decision-makers who believe the NHS can find more savings without affecting the experience of patients”.
Responses from trusts suggested that in 2010 they performed only half the weight-loss procedures carried out in 2009. There were also fewer hip and knee replacements, hysterectomies, tonsillectomies and hernia and cataract operations. There were slight increases for adenoid and gallstone surgery.
The government is facing mounting protests at health secretary Andrew Lansley’s plans to reform the way healthcare is commissioned, amid claims the changes will mean an end to a free and universal service.
The association said it had focused on the operations patients had complained about and healthcare professionals had warned were facing restrictions.
The responses showed there were 10,757 fewer procedures carried out across nine categories in 2010 than in 2009. On average, patients were waiting eight days longer for hip and knee replacements and six days for hysterectomies.
Katherine Murphy, the association’s chief executive, said: “It is a disgrace that patients are being denied access to surgical procedures that they would have had if they had needed them a year ago.
“It’s frightening to think that there are people struggling to cope with painful conditions that radically affect their quality of life because a potentially life-changing operation is not available to them.
“With the NHS needing to make £20bn of savings by 2014, we are worried that this situation is only going to get worse – how many more thousands of patients are going to be denied operations this time next year?”
The Royal College of Surgeons voiced concerns. President John Black said: “It’s worrying to hear that hundreds of patients are reporting problems accessing routine surgery, or having to wait longer for it.
“Patients must be seen on a clinical need, rather than a financial basis. Any cost savings this may bring in the short term will be negated as these patients present with more serious conditions further down the line.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Health insisted: “There is no justification for asserting that quality of care is slipping. Official figures show that the NHS is delivering more for patients and that waiting times are stable.
“Our plans will improve care for patients. Survival rates for conditions like bowel cancer need to improve. That’s why we are modernising the NHS to focus on improving the entire patient pathway, not just a narrow part of it, so that people live longer, healthier lives.”
DoH figures from all 170 acute trusts for the six months from April to October last year showed increases in hip and knee replacements and in cataract operations over the same period in 2009. Waiting times had risen by a day in the first two types of procedure and were the same for the third.
Sources : Guardian-Health