Brits underestimating hospital waiting times

Article date: 27 May 2004

The public could be underestimating how long they’d haveto wait for an operation according to a new study out today.

The study from Norwich Union Healthcare into people’sperceptions of waiting times shows that those questioned expect towait just five months for a hip operation, when in reality, manywait far longer.

The latest figures from Norwich Union Healthcare show an averageeight and a half months wait for a hip operation. What’smore, if you include the wait to see a consultant, the averagelength of time a patient will wait rises to almost 11 months.

These figures, compiled by leading medical researchers DrFoster, are bad news for Government targets – with peopleonly being prepared to wait two and a half months for theprocedure. This is a long way from the Government’s targetset at a maximum wait of six months for an operation by 2005 anddown to three months some time after that.

The confusion is compounded because two thirds of people saythey wouldn’t know where to go to find information on waitingtimes and one in ten say they didn’t even know these figureswere available in the public domain. A third of those polled feelbewildered by the different waiting times cited by differentsources.

Dr Doug Wright, clinical development manager at Norwich UnionHealthcare commented: "People are not really aware of how long theyshould expect to wait for an operation, let alone be able tocompare different waiting times among different hospitals.

"That means people aren’t necessarily taking advantage ofthe information that is available and they may be waiting severalmonths for something like a hip operation in their area, when itcould actually be done more quickly elsewhere."

The data supplied by independent medical research specialists DrFoster, reveals that waiting times have on the whole improved forfive of the most common procedures year-on-year. But it’s toosoon to incorporate the effects of Government initiatives to reducewaiting times, such as diagnosis and treatment centres (DTC), intothe 2003 figures.

However, the DTCs being rolled out across the country should cutwaiting times by increasing capacity.

For example, the Hammersmith Hospitals NHS Trust, which managesthe Ravenscourt Park DTC in West London – operational for thepast year – has seen a massive reduction in waiting times,from 204 days for a hip replacement (from seeing the consultant todate of procedure) in 2002 to just 30 in 2003.

Roger Taylor, research director at Dr Foster, said: "Theincreased use of diagnosis and treatment centres across the countryis already beginning to have an incredible impact on NHS waitingtimes as demonstrated by the Ravenscourt Park DTC. The full extentof the reduction will be revealed next year as we continue tomonitor the effect they are having."

The most recent waiting times on the NHS’s most commonprocedures are drawn from Norwich Union Healthcare’s latestWaiting List Guide 2003 which is part of its online Personal HealthManager.

Norwich Union Healthcare’s Personal Health Manager( allows visitors to searchwaiting list data either by procedure, specialty, specific NHStrusts or trusts within selected postcodes and surroundingareas.

Dr Wright added: "We want to encourage people to do a bit moreresearch on the amount of time they could expect to wait for aprocedure. They should be aware that it’s possible to comparethe waiting times of NHS trusts in their area, go back to their GPand ask to be referred somewhere that has a shorter waitinglist.

"By giving customers data that’s easy to access andunderstand we’re enabling them to make this kind of choice,which they haven’t been doing up till now."

This is borne out by the results of another Norwich UnionHealthcare survey, in which almost nine in 10 people saythey’d never asked to go to a different consultant than theone to which they’d been referred.


Media contacts:
Jo Misson or CharlotteRuddlesdin, QBO Bell Pottinger on 020 7861 2424

Norwich Union Press Office contacts:
LornaWiltshire: 01904 723236 or 07788 471849
James Evans: 01904 452 791
Louise Soulsby: 01904 452 617
Robert Pell: 01904 452 659

Notes to editors:

Journalists wanting a limited free trial for Personal HealthManager, please visit and log in asa first time user with the access code: 831B4911. Once you havelogged in, this code will allow you to trial Personal HealthManager as a registered user from now until 30 June 2004. DO NOTPUBLISH THIS ACCESS CODE – IT IS FOR JOURNALIST USE ONLY.

About the research
Consumer research wasby commissioned by Norwich Union, and undertaken by TNS, into howlong people would expect, and be prepared to wait, for five commonprocedures. This was compared against ‘actual wait’data, collated by Dr Foster for Norwich Union’s Waiting ListGuide, and which covers the financial year to 31 March 2003. Thedata focuses on the most common procedures across 8 regions inEngland and Scotland.

The representative sample of 1,013 GB adults was interviewedduring 7-9 May 2004.

Cataract removal:Expected WaitPrepared to WaitAverage Inpatient WaitAverage Total Wait
Length of time3.8 months2.5 months~ 6.3 months~8.4 months
Mean average~114 days~ 75 days190 days253 days
Hip replacement:Expected WaitPrepared to WaitAverage Inpatient WaitAverage Total Wait
Length of time5 months3 months~ 4.3 months~10.9 months
Mean average~ 150 days~ 90 days255 days328 days
Knee replacement:Expected WaitPrepared to WaitAverage Inpatient WaitAverage Total Wait
Length of time4.9 months3 months~ 9.8 months~ 12.2 months
Mean average~ 147 days~ 90 days295 days368 days
Slipped disc:Expected WaitPrepared to WaitAverage Inpatient WaitAverage Total Wait
Length of time3.8 months2.1 months~ 2.5 months~ 5 months
Mean average~ 114 days~ 63 days74 days150 days
Groin hernia:Expected WaitPrepared to WaitAverage Inpatient WaitAverage Total Wait
Length of time3.5 months2.2 months~ 4.2 months~5.4 months
Mean average~ 105 days~ 66 days126 days162 days

About Norwich Union Healthcare

Norwich Union Healthcare was founded in 1990 as the healthcarearm of Norwich Union and now provides a range of income protectionand private medical insurance products that cover over 750,000lives. It is one of the largest providers of income protection andprivate medical insurance in the UK.

Norwich Union Healthcare is a member of the General InsuranceStandards Council, the Association of British Insurers and theFinancial Ombudsman Service.

Norwich Union’s news releases and a selection of imagesare available from Aviva’s internet press centre at

An ISDN facility is available for studio quality broadcast. Callthe press office on 08703 66 68 68

For all life, pensions and equity release media enquiries call08703 66 68 73

For all other media enquiries call 08703 66 68 68

Dr Foster is the leading independent authority onhealthcare quality in the UK. It publishes information which isaccessible to the general public and provides information analysisto the professional healthcare community.

An independent Ethics Committee with substantial powers toenforce editorial and research integrity oversees theorganisation.

Further information is available at direct from Tim Kelsey, Chief Executive, Dr Foster Limited, 17St. Helen’s Place, London EC3A 6DY.

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