The president of the Royal College of Surgeons in England has expressed concern in relation to an announcement by NHS England that waiting lists for certain types of treatment are likely to increase as a result of a drive to bring down waiting lists in other areas.

NHS England boss Simon Stevens was unveiling a progress report in respect of his 5 year strategy for the health service which was released in 2014. Mr Stevens has accepted that there will be a ‘trade-off’ with patients facing increasing waiting times for operations such as knee and hip operations. Mr Stevens went on to point out that in return there would be quick cancer care and A&E treatment. Mr Stevens commented in a BBC interview that there was a need to ‘fix urgent problems first’.

Clare Marx, president of the Royal College of Surgeons commented to the BBC that delays could have more serious consequences. An example was given of cardiac patients having heart attacks whilst on the list for surgery.

In England patients waiting for a hospital operation are meant to be seen within 18 weeks. Mr Stevens has accepted that growing pressures mean that this can no longer be guaranteed. BBC published statistics show that 6% of patients waited more than 18 weeks during the busiest periods of 2012 whereas that figure peaked at over 10% in 2016.

In our experience this type of situation has led to avoidable injuries and caused further harm to patients. Whilst some operations can be viewed as “non- urgent”, the reality is that patients in those situations often suffer deteriorations while waiting for treatment, leading to poorer outcomes overall and increased pain and suffering while waiting. In some more serious cases, such as cardiac procedures, untreated conditions can lead to serious consequences such as heart attacks or even death.

Other plans announced include reducing the number of patients referred to hospital by GPs and reducing the NHS spend on ‘low value’ medicines such as gluten free foods, prescription sun creams and some painkillers. Whilst it is recognised that reforms have to be made to an already crumbling NHS system, this should never be at the expense of good patient care.