Patient's Charter rights relevant to waiting times are:
- 'To be given detailed information on local health services including ... waiting time. Your local health authority/board will make sure that all local NHS hospitals publicise current maximum admission times.'
- 'To be guaranteed admission...by a specific date no later than eighteen months from the day when your consultant first places you on the waiting list ...Your health authority/board will be responsible for ensuring that the guaranteed times are met, if necessary by offering you treatment in an alternative hospital.'
- 'Your operation should not be cancelled on the day you are due to arrive in hospital or after you have gone in. If it is, you can expect to be admitted again within one month of the cancellation.'
Many health authorities/boards have set their own maximum waiting times which improve on the Patient's Charter standard.
The total number of patients waiting at the end of September 1997 to be admitted at NHS hospitals in England was 1,207,500 (an increase of 1.5% since the previous quarter). The number of patients waiting over one year has increased since the last quarter by 24% to a total of 57,700. 818 patients had been waiting longer than the 18 month Patient's Charter guarantee. 279,000 (23%) of those patients currently waiting had been given a date for their admission.
Since April 1995, a Patient's Charter standard says that all first outpatient appointments should be seen within 26 weeks of referral, with nine out of ten seen within 13 weeks.
A Waiting List Action Team, backed up by eight regional task forces, is to be set up to tackle the NHS waiting lists and times. The group will target £5 million at piloting new ways of cutting waiting lists; the eight task forces to deliver local solutions and spread best practice.