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Are delays in treatment a result of NHS rationing?

  • A hospital waiting room
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    I was shocked to recently read that the British Medical Journal has published evidence that routine NHS procedures are being cut back, leading to a need for doctors to resort to special appeals to get treatment for their patients.

    By Rosie Hodgetts

What is a Special Appeal?

Where treatment or care is not being funded on the NHS, doctors are able to use the exceptional cases system to appeal to local health bosses to request treatment for specific patients.

Ordinarily, cases where special appeals are put forward relate to incidence where an individual may benefit from new drugs which are not yet available on the NHS or to pay for extensive treatment in unusual circumstances. Additionally, it will ordinarily cover care that is, legitimately restricted such as cosmetic surgery.

What does the data show?

The latest evidence published by the BMJ suggests that over the past 3 to 4 years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of requests being made through the special cases route which has risen by 47% to 73,900.

Whilst, on a first glance, it could be presumed that these are increasing procedures which would not ordinarily be funded by the NHS, but, in actual fact, a lot of these requests appear to be vital non-emergency services.

In the latest research, 169 of the clinical commissioning groups which control local budgets responded and showed that requests for hip and knee surgery have increased since 2013/14 from 49 to 899. Equally, over the same period, requests for cataract surgery have trebled with more than 1,000 requests.

Additionally, and troubling, only just over half of all requests were approved meaning that only just over half of these procedures could go ahead.

Why has there been such a dramatic increase?

It has been reported on numerous occasions over the past few years that the NHS budget has been drastically decreased and, it would appear, that local health bosses have blamed tighter restrictions on treatment options but are blaming a lack of funding for the tighter restrictions placed on procedures that can be carried out. It is apparent that although more than 15 million non-emergency treatments are taking place every year in the UK, there are plenty of incidences where a patient is being either denied care or having to wait, having to spend more time in pain as the NHS will not fund their treatment.

Whatever the reason for these restrictions, it is clear that many individuals are not receiving access to the care that they request and, as a consequence are having to spend longer either in pain or without treatment.

If you or a member of your family have been affected by delays in care or have been refused treatment and would like to discuss your options then please get in touch.

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