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October 24, 2002

ENT patients face long NHS waits

From: BBC, UK
Oct. 24, 2002

The report reveals long waits for ENT surgery

Patients with ear, nose or throat problems face huge variations in the length of time they have to wait for treatment on the NHS.

A report by the independent watchdog the Audit Commission has found that while some patients are seen within a few weeks, others wait much longer.

It shows that children in need of a grommet operation on their ears can wait almost six months for treatment.

Adults in need of septal surgery to remove a blockage in their nose can wait more than 17 months.

There are also long waits for patients who require hearing aids - up to 14 months in some areas.

Ministers used the report to announce plans to introduce a 'national good practice guide' for the NHS to improve services.

Government figures show that at the end of March 23,000 people had waited six months or longer for an ENT operation.

Key changes

The report suggests that differences in the way some hospitals deal with patients were contributing to the long delays.

It called on hospitals to examine waiting lists to see if they could make improvements.

It suggested consultants and local GPs should draw up policies on which patients needed to be seen faster than others.

It also urged doctors to ensure patients were seen in the order they were referred for treatment, and were not allowed to jump the queue unless there were clear clinical reasons for doing so.

The report recommended that new waiting time targets be introduced for people in need of hearing aids.

It said the lack of a government target meant delays did not have to be reported, suggesting that hospitals did not consider these patients a priority.

Sir Andrew Foster, controller of the Audit Commission said: "Too many people are waiting too long for straightforward treatment that could greatly enhance their quality of life.

"In some cases, waits are exceptionally long, and in the case of audiology patients, there are no standards to help manage these waiting times."

Health Minister John Hutton acknowledged that problems existed.

"We know that some patients wait too long and that there have been significant variations in the time they have had to wait for treatment. This is not acceptable."

Mr Hutton said the national good practice guide would help to cut waiting times.

The guide is based on the NHS Modernisation Agency's pilot schemes which have improved ENT services in some areas.

The Royal National Institute for Deaf People welcomed the move.

"ENT and audiology is often a neglected part of the NHS so the Modernisation Agency's focus was particularly welcome," said John Low, its director of research.

"There is no reason why deaf and hard of hearing people across the country should not benefit from the lessons learnt."