Our NHS waiting lists are longest

NEW figures released by union leaders reveal patients in Hartlepool have to wait longer for medical treatment than anywhere else in the region.

The GMB union has released figures that show the average waiting time for treatment for NHS patients in the North-East was 7.3 weeks but NHS Hartlepool came in bottom of the regional list with an average waiting time of 8.7 weeks.

In Hartlepool, 94.4 per cent of patients had a hospital appointment within 18 weeks of being referred by their GP, compared to the North-East average of 95.9 per cent.

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The latest figures, which relate to May last year, were released as union leaders slammed controversial plans to reform the NHS, which will see PCTs scrapped and GP consortia handed powers allowing them to commission £80bn of treatment for patients.

A series of targets for treating patients have already been scrapped under NHS reforms and union bosses fear the Health and Social Care Bill could have a detrimental impact on the hard work done to reduce waiting times.

Health chiefs at NHS Hartlepool say there has been substantial investment to improve the quality of services and reduce waiting times in recent years.

Ali Wilson, director of commissioning and systems development for NHS Hartlepool, said: “Over the last few years NHS Hartlepool has made available substantial additional investment to improve the quality of services for patients and to deliver significant reductions in the waiting times for hospital and community care.

“This includes the delivery of mandated national performance targets. We can assure the people of Hartlepool that patient appointments are prioritised according to clinical need and that going forward we are committed to maintaining the high standards that have already been achieved.”

The 18-week referral-to-treatment target was abolished last summer, while the guaranteed access for patients to primary care doctors within 48 hours has been scrapped and the government has also relaxed the target for accident and emergency patients to be seen within four hours.

Tom Brennan, GMB regional secretary, said: “NHS staff have worked hard to create a health service that we can all be proud of. They’ve nurtured the NHS, developing a public satisfaction higher than the UK has known before. They have delivered massive reductions in the waiting times from the average of over 18 weeks in 1997.

“The old maxim in politics is “if it’s not broke don’t fix it” so it is a disgrace that the government is prepared to gamble with the running of a life and death service.”

Speaking in the Commons, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: “At every step, clinical leadership - the leadership of doctors, nurses and other health professionals - will be right at the forefront - an NHS organised from the bottom up, not from the top down.”