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NHS maximum waiting times and patient choice policies

Published Friday, May 6, 2016

House of Commons Library briefing on NHS maximum waiting time standards and patient choice.

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This briefing describes policies on NHS maximum waiting time standards and patient choice.

As set out in the NHS Constitution, patients have the right to a maximum 18 week waiting time from referral to consultant-led treatment. Patients also have the right to be seen by a cancer specialist within a maximum of two weeks from GP referral for urgent referrals where cancer is suspected.

The NHS Constitution also provides a series of pledges on maximum waiting times for services such as diagnostic tests, A & E, and treatment for diagnosed cancer. Such pledges are not legally binding but represent a commitment by the NHS to provide high quality services. In September 2015, the Government pledged to introduce a new four week waiting time standard for cancer diagnosis by 2020.

The Coalition Government introduced the first maximum waiting time standards for mental health treatment, from April 2015. The standards are for most patients referred for talking therapies to receive treatment within 6 weeks, with a maximum wait of 18 weeks, and at least 50 per cent of people who experience their first episode of psychosis to receive treatment within two weeks of referral. A waiting time standard for children and young people with an eating disorder was also introduced in July 2015. NHS England is currently leading work on the development of further access and waiting time standards for children’s mental health.

The Government and NHS England are also working to improve patient choice within the NHS, which is a legal right as set out in the NHS Constitution.

Patients have a right to choose their provider and consultant-led team when they are referred for their first outpatient appointment with a service led by a consultant. These rights were for the first time extended to mental health services in April 2014, to embed parity of esteem and bring patients’ rights in mental health in line with those for physical health. There are some exceptions to this right, including for people detained under the Mental Health Act 1983.

To further strengthen patient choice, a legal right to have a personal health budget was introduced for adults receiving NHS Continuing Healthcare and children and young people receiving Continuing Care in October 2014. The NHS Mandate 2014-15 also set an objective for the NHS to further roll out personal health budgets to anyone who could benefit, by April 2015.

This briefing applies to England only, although brief information on waiting time standards in the devolved administrations is provided.

Commons Briefing papers CBP-7171

Author: Elizabeth Parkin

Topics: Health services, Patient rights and complaints

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