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Hospitals 'near breaking point' as waiting times rise

Patients experiencing waiting times of over 18 weeks from referral to treatment rose nearly 50% year on year in August 2011, new Government figures reveal.

A total of 28,635 patients in England who were treated in an NHS hospital during that month had been waiting more than 18 weeks, compared with 19,355 in August 2010 – a rise of 48%.

The data also shows that 45 hospital trusts failed to meet the 18 weeks referral to treatment target in August, up from 18 in May 2010.

Commenting on the figures, Sir Richard Thompson, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said hospitals were near 'breaking point'.

He said: ‘These statistics are undoubtedly worrying for patients and offer yet more evidence that the NHS is struggling to cope with an inexorable rise in demand.'

'Our members are seeing an increased number of patients requiring urgent care and this has an inevitable effect on the ability of hospitals to manage planned treatments.'

A Department of Health spokesperson said:  ‘Average waiting times are low and remain stable. The vast majority of patients still receive treatment within 18 weeks.'

'The NHS is treating more people who have waited over 18 weeks, which shows the effort that is being put into getting treatment to those who have waited longer. ‘

Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said: 'After years of improvement under Labour, more patients have had to wait longer for treatment since David Cameron came to power.'

'It is particularly alarming that 45 Trusts are now missing the target for 90% of patients treated within 18 weeks.'

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