The Government plan to tackle hidden NHS waiting lists has been delayed until 2013/14, despite pledges to ‘clamp down’ on NHS trusts breaching the 18 week rule.
Under current NHS rules patients should be treated within 18 weeks of referral by a GP. But after that deadline there is no incentive for hospitals to see them.
In November 2011 nearly 250,000 patients had waited longer than 18 weeks for treatment. Of these, just over 100,000 have waited for longer than six months, and 20,000 for more than a year.
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley previously told NHS managers that they must reduce the number of long waiters to around 50,000 by April this year.
But according to the Department of Health, penalties will now only be introduced in 2013/14 'once progress has been made on validating the backlog data and the NHS has had time to adjust to working to the new standard.'
The Health Service Journal (HSJ), which uncovered the delay, said delaying the measure 'fundamentally undermines the government’s stated intention to reduce the number of patients ‘forgotten’ on English waiting lists.'
Patients Association chief executive Katherine Murphy said: 'The Department of Health said they would tackle the issue yet instead of taking action they have just stuck to the same targets which have not helped these forgotten patients.’
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: 'We want to reduce the number of patients on hidden waiting lists to help ensure everyone gets access to the treatment they need.
'Work on this has already started and we expect organisations to reduce their backlog and long waits whilst this is ongoing.’
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