New NHS figures apparently show increasing delays in carrying out x-rays and other tests such ultrasound scans and cardiology (heart) tests. More than 15,000 people waited more than 6 weeks before undergoing tests in May 2011, 4 times more than waited the same period to have tests in April 2011. These are statistics for patients waiting just 6 weeks. There are also alarming figures of increases in those having to wait 3 months.
These figures suggest that cuts are already having a very severe impact on patient care and that the government has failed to keep its commitment to ensure that waiting lists will not increase. Inevitably some patients will suffer worse outcomes. As specialists bodies of doctors such as the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Physicians have pointed out, longer waits for tests mean greater delays in diagnosis.
Delays in diagnosis are already a problem. My colleagues and I work on cases all the time when the prognosis for cancer is worse than it should have been or fractures have healed in the wrong position because of delays. In some of the worse cases these failures can lead to death or serious disability. For individual patients delays can therefore be disastrous. But even from a financial perspective it makes no sense. What is the point in saving money on investigations only to have to spend more because patients need more extensive treatment or are thrown onto reliance on state benefits because they can no longer work?
To see the figures for delays rising so rapidly is therefore a cause of concern and one that needs to be addressed urgently.
Paul Sankey is a solicitor specialising in clinical negligence.
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