Versus Arthritis calls on all political parties to retain the maximum 18-week waiting time target

14 November 2019
Abigail, in her kitchen, gripping onto the counter in pain.

Newly published data has revealed that, once again, the target for treating 92% of people waiting for surgery within 18 weeks has not been met.

This means that over 90,000 - 90,871 to be exact - people are waiting over 18 weeks for trauma and orthopaedic surgery. Read our CEO, Liam O'Toole's letter to the editor featured in the Observer.

Each year nearly a quarter of a million people have joint replacements.

The operations are some of the most common and effective surgeries offered by the NHS. They prove life changing for thousands of people living with severe arthritis by alleviating pain and restoring mobility.

But extended waiting means that people with arthritis across England are being forced to live in agony, often seeing their condition deteriorate, losing their independence or ability to work.

This is unacceptable.

We are calling on all political parties to commit to retaining the maximum 18-week waiting time target in their manifestos.

In June 2019, we commissioned a poll by YouGov of 1,009 English adults with osteoarthritis, asking them about their experience as they waited for joint replacement surgery. Half (49%) of those with osteoarthritis who had a knee, hip or shoulder replacement via the NHS said their physical health deteriorated and one third (33%) that said their mental health deteriorated while they were waiting. It’s clear that longer waiting times could have a negative impact on people’s lives.

Frances' story

Frances Reid – one of our supporters from South Cambridgeshire – told us about the impact that waiting longer than 18 weeks for surgery had on her. After being diagnosed with osteoarthritis in 2016, Frances was told that she would need a hip replacement and was prescribed painkillers to deal with the pain whilst she waited.

After her condition deteriorated, Frances was eventually put on the waiting list for surgery but given no guarantee about when it would take place. She had to wait seven months to be treated, more than two months later than the NHS’ maximum target of 18 weeks.

She said: “The pain was so intense …. [I was] never able to get comfortable and … couldn’t sleep at night. By the time the operation came around in July I was in so much pain, and could only manage about ten minutes walking. At the end of the wait I was unable to go to the supermarket and had to resort to using the trolley as a walking aid. My fitness deteriorated a lot because everything I could do was limited.”

Frances’ story highlights how important it is to have a target that makes it a priority for hospitals to treat people with osteoarthritis in a timely way.

Research and treatment outcomes

Our research has also shown that having the 18-week target can provide patients with assurance about when they can expect to access treatment for joint replacements, in a time period that evidence suggests will be most clinically effective.

We know that outcomes after six months of waiting for surgery are worse, and that treatment is less effective after this point.

At this general election, we call on all political parties to commit to retaining the 18-week waiting time target for planned surgery so that people with arthritis can access this life-changing treatment when it can make the most difference.

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