People living in the poorest areas waiting longer for hospital treatment

The King’s Fund and Healthwatch England have jointly called for urgent action to address hospital waiting lists and improve patients’ experience of delays to treatment.
Doctor performing surgery

New analysis from The King’s Fund shows that people living in the most deprived areas in England are nearly twice (1.8 times) as likely to experience a wait of over one year for hospital care than those in the most affluent.  

The analysis looks at waiting lists for planned hospital treatment such as knee and hip replacements, cataract surgery and other common procedures.  

It shows that more than seven per cent of patients on waiting lists in the most deprived areas of the country have been waiting a year or more for treatment compared to around four per cent of those in the least deprived.

With a record 5.6 million people across the country currently waiting for hospital treatment, the analysis also shows that waiting lists are growing more quickly in deprived areas. From April 2020 to July 2021 (latest available data), waiting lists have on average grown by 55 per cent in the most deprived parts of the country, compared to 36 per cent in the least deprived areas.

This trend suggests that people feel safer about coming forward for treatment and are being referred for the care they need. However, the disparities in waiting times uncovered by this analysis are a significant concern on top of the impact of the pandemic which hit the most deprived communities hardest.

A national poll of over 1,600 British adults currently waiting for planned treatment, or who have a relative who is waiting, suggests people’s experience of delays to treatment can take a toll on their health and wellbeing.  

The poll, commissioned by Healthwatch England, found 46% of respondents said they or their relatives didn’t receive enough information, or any at all, about when they could expect their treatment and 48% didn’t receive any support to manage their condition during their wait.

It also found:

  • Over half of respondents in the East of England, 59% of those whose treatment got delayed, agreed that this was taking a toll on the level of pain they faced; 58% agreed that their mental health had been affected; 55% that their ability to carry out household tasks had been affected; and 44% that their ability to work had been affected.  
  • Nearly one in four people, 22%, have already gone private for treatment or are considering it. 
  • Going private wasn’t an option for 42% of the respondents who had their treatment delayed.
“With healthcare services forced to prioritise critically ill patients throughout the pandemic, it is a reality that people will be waiting longer for hospital treatment for a while. However, NHS England must manage waiting lists better. People need clear and individualised information from the NHS, such as what the next steps for their treatment or care will be and how long they can expect to wait. As millions continue to wait for treatment, we can give people confidence they haven’t been forgotten, which is critical when you’ve been suffering in silence for months.”
— Sir Robert Francis, Chair of Healthwatch England

Healthwatch England has set out recommendations for NHS England based on public feedback:  

  • Provide personalised, clear, accurate and consistent communication to people waiting for NHS treatment, consultation and surgery, including where they are on the waiting list; 
  • Keep people informed about the next steps for their treatment; 
  • Provide a point of contact for people on waiting lists to turn to for advice and support; 
  • Put in place interim support, such as physiotherapy, pain relief and mental health support; 
  • Put in place a system to better manage waiting lists, with a focus on diagnostics to identify what is wrong and better prioritise urgent treatments; 
  • Re-prioritise treatment if people’s needs change.

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