There is no magic solution to achieving the 18-week target from GP referral to hospital treatment; but the secret is to tighten up all aspects of every element of the patient's journey.

There is no magic solution to achieving the 18-week target from GP referral to hospital treatment; but the secret is to tighten up all aspects of every element of the patient's journey.

To do this, a detailed understanding of every aspect of your processes is essential, requiring data analysis and process mapping, and you need a close match with your demand and your capacity to deal with it.

These five essentials should help:

  • Planning ahead on all aspects is key, so everyone knows what to do in advance, there is no dithering, and the flow of work is maintained.
  • Pool the work of consultants (80 per cent of procedures do not need a specialist), technicians and administrative staff. This is all about reducing variation in waiting times between patients.
  • Reduce the things that do not add value to patients: unnecessary follow-ups; redoing diagnostic tests; searching for the right equipment etc.
  • Keep things moving: see and treat patients in order; first in, first out. If one person jumps the queue for non-clinical reasons it means everyone else behind them waits longer.
  • Focus on the whole journey (as well as the team, unit and section you work in) because the efficiency of the entire patient journey is more important than individual team efficiencies.

The NHS Institute has also developed a free web-based product to help in data analysis, showing trusts' current performance and linking that to the appropriate tools or interventions they need to improve.

Julia Taylor is No Delays priority programme director for the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement