16/05/2003

Hospital waiting list falls below one million

The number of people waiting for NHS inpatient operations has fallen below a million for the first time in 10 years, according to the government's latest figures.

The number of NHS patients waiting longer than 12 months for an operation has also fallen to the lowest in 10 years - from 21,869 at the end of March last year to just 73 at the end of March this year. This is an important milestone on the way to meeting the target that by the end of 2005 no-one should wait longer than six months for an operation.

The number of patients waiting more than three, six, nine and 12 months are all lower than in March 1997. The number waiting longer than nine months fell by 45% during 2002/03, while the number waiting longer than six months fell by 21%.

Waiting times are now falling across the board in the NHS. Almost nine in 10 patients can get a GP appointment within two working days and there are now just 64 people waiting longer than 21 weeks for a first outpatient appointment with a hospital specialist, compared to more than 40,000 at the same point last year.

Health Secretary Alan Milburn said: "Waiting times had been rising for decades in the NHS. They are now coming down. There is a long way to go, but the health service is on course to deliver the NHS Plan, so that by 2005 no one should have to wait longer than six months for an operation."

A report also published today by NHS Chief Executive Sir Nigel Crisp confirms that waiting lists and times are falling, and that the number of patients seen by the NHS is rising. It also shows that patients are being seen in new ways - such as at walk-in centres.

(GMcG)

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