Posted by:13 September, 2012
England's 18-week waits have been improving steadily since the start of 2011, but with two hiccups along the way: the first hiccup was this time last year, and we are having the second one now.
Waiting lists have a seasonal element to them, so there is every reason to expect that the current hiatus is merely a blip, and that improvement will resume in either August's figures or September's. If not, then we could be in for trouble over the winter.
Orthopaedics remains the major waiting-list specialty with the greatest 18-weeks pressures, although General Surgery is closing the gap (acute Trusts and Commissioners: take note).
On the plus side, the number of over-one-year waiters on the list hit new record lows, falling below 3,000 for the first time ever.
This analysis is based on data from the Department of Health, and our version of the key trends is available for download below this post.
The total number of patients on the waiting list is the highest since June 2008, but still in line with seasonal expectations.
After a May-June wobble (caused mainly by the number of working days in those months), admissions in July returned to the normal level (the number of working days in the last 4 Julys is 23, 22, 21, 22, so this July was not unusual).
The number of very-long-waiters resumed its downward trend, but the number of over-18-week waiters drifted up again.
The key target measure, showing how long 92 per cent of the list is waiting, continued to tread water:
At specialty level, General Surgery is the one to watch. If this carries on then it won't be long before Orthopaedics loses its crown as the major long-waits specialty.
Trust top ten
This used to be a "top twenty", but so few Trusts are now breaching the incomplete pathways target overall that I've slimmed it down to a top ten. The Robert Jones and North Bristol are neck and neck out in front, then there is a huge gap before we reach the peloton.
All Trusts submitted data in July, which is excellent news. (It is very much in Trusts' interests to do so, as they score an automatic "fail" on the targets if they don't.)
The biggest improvement was shown by Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, who went from 5th place to 30th by reducing their 92nd centile wait for incomplete pathways from 19.7 weeks to 17.8.
The 18-week statistics for August are due out at 9:30am on Thursday 18 October 2012.
Rob Findlay is founder of Gooroo Ltd and a specialist in waiting time dynamics.