The unkindest cut of all

PATIENTS lives are being put in danger because a cost-cutting exercise means people may have to wait four months for an operation, despite available slots in hospital, according to a surgical consultant. Consultants at Lister Hospital have been told by t

PATIENTS' lives are being put in danger because a cost-cutting exercise means people may have to wait four months for an operation, despite available slots in hospital, according to a surgical consultant.

Consultants at Lister Hospital have been told by the East and North Hertfordshire Primary Care Trust and the West Hertfordshire Primary Care Trust (PCT) that routine elective patients, where a decision is made to admit them, should not be treated until the financial year 2007/08.

But a concerned consultant at the hospital, who did not want to be named, talked exclusively to The Comet.

"Over half the patients who are diagnosed with a cancer are referred up to the hospitals with routine letters," he said.


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"There could potentially be significant health implications and delays in diagnosis using this approach.

"Potentially this is putting people's lives in danger."

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He added: "The PCTs are now telling us they will not pay for any operation unless a patient has waited 20 weeks.

"This is to save money because we do have slots available for people and a lot of the surgeons don't have a long waiting list.

"This could potentially leave operating theatres idle in the new year while patients fester on waiting lists, waiting for the new financial year.

"The PCTs are not prepared to back the hospitals for increased performance efficiency."

In addition, the PCTs have advised that any new outpatient referred from January 31 is not given an appointment until after March 31.

The PCTs have also stipulated that any GP expedites - where a GP has asked for a patient's waiting time for a hospital appointment to be accelerated - should be refused or referred to the PCT before any action is taken.

Patients waiting for chronic pain management and orthopaedic procedures, with very high pain scores, will also not be expedited.

A letter circulated to the hospital consultants by the East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust said: "The Hertfordshire PCTs have told us that they will withhold payment where a Trust does not follow the instructions."

The consultant said: "This only applies to patients living in Hertfordshire but not the surrounding areas.

"It's back to being a postcode lottery."

A spokesman for the East and North Hertfordshire PCT said: "It is now imperative we make further immediate savings during the last four months of the financial year if we are to meet this year's financial plan agreed with the Department of Health.

"Projects started so far include reducing the number of inappropriate or unnecessary outpatient appointments and introducing management of routine referrals for planned surgery.

"The PCTs have asked the East and North Herts NHS Trust to examine their systems to ensure that activity doesn't exceed what was originally agreed in the PCT plans.

"It is our aim that all patients are seen within the 20 week maximum waiting time and all GP and consultant referrals marked as urgent will still be seen as quickly as possible in all specialities.

"If we do not make changes immediately, the PCTs face a situation where we will spend over and above our allowed limit.

"Failure to meet our financial targets will mean that our financial allocation in 2007/2008 will be reduced and we are likely to face another year of extreme financial difficulty and uncertainty."

A spokesman for the East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust said: "We have been informed by the PCTs what we need to do and we will be doing that.

"It is important to stress, however, that urgent and emergency cases are not affected by the requests being made on waiting times by the PCTs. They will continue to get their care quickly.

"The only impact will be on patients requiring routine surgery.

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