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Hospitals warned over waiting times

2nd March 2011

NHS head Sir David Nicholson has sent a letter to health service staff to warn against "misunderstandings" about waiting times.

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Sir David said patients still needed appointments within 18 weeks despite the fact that monitoring of the target is no longer centrally managed.

The letter stated: "In my travels around the service, I have encountered some misunderstandings about the government's intentions in respect of waiting times."

"Let me be clear that the government has stated its strong support for the rights in the NHS Constitution, which established patients' right to access services within maximum waiting times or to be offered a range of alternative providers if this is not possible. "

Professor John Appleby, from the King's Fund, has been monitoring hospital waiting times following the announcement to relax monitoring in summer 2010.

The government said at the time that hospitals should not fall down on standards, but if they did not meet them, they would not face penalties.

Professor Appleby's figures, published in the British Medical Journal, do not conclusively show that waiting times are getting longer.

The data shows that patients face increased waiting times for diagnostic tests and the number of patients who had to wait for more than 18 weeks also went up.

However, the information was collected for December, when patients are more likely to be ill. Professor Appleby said it was not certain whether times had gone up or this was just a "seasonal effect".

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