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18-week target hit by cuts

The scale of the Government's task in meeting its 18-week referral-to-treatment target has been revealed, with orthopaedics identified as the biggest area of concern.

Health minister Andy Burnham said the specialty remained 'the biggest challenge', as figures revealed far higher than average waiting times for orthopaedic patients.

The release of the Government's official statistics last week showed that 52% of patients waited more than 18 weeks between referral and hospital treatment, although there were significant national variations.

The figure was 75% for orthopaedics and trauma.

Dr Peter Kay, senior lecturer in orthopaedics at the University of Manchester and clinical chair for the Government's 18-week project in orthopaedics, told Pulse he wanted to see GPs in close contact with GPSIs in orthopaedics, and specialist multidisciplinary teams including hospital consultants.

'If GPs have closer links with specialists this will create better pathways of care and people will get through the system much quicker,' he said.

Others claimed that the financial crisis still faced by some PCTs was to blame, with hospitals alleged to have slowed activity to save money.

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the King's Fund, said: 'The biggest threat to the 18-week target will come from persistent and underlying financial deficits.'

Speaking at the Department of Health briefing last week, Mr Burnham said: 'We recognise the challenge and we have been working extremely closely with doctors to provide beds.'

A postcode and specialty lottery a postcode and specialty lottery

Government figures show the huge disparity in waiting times across the UK. Figures showed 98% of Leicester City PCT patients fell within the Government's 18-week target. Yet only 25% of Mid Essex PCT's patients were treated within 18 weeks.

There were also wide gulfs in waiting times depending on specialty. Only 20% of patients in geriatric medicine and 21% in thoracic medicine had to wait more than 18 weeks. But in oral surgery this figure rose to almost two-thirds of patients.

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