Written by

Michael Blakemore-Carson - Senior Litigation Executive

Time is a critical factor when treating illnesses, if treatment is delayed, it can lead to irreversible complications for patients. Over the past couple of years there have been more patients who have had to wait longer than 18 weeks to receive treatment. Delays in seeking medical attention, diagnosis, or treatment can have devastating impacts for patients including a worsened condition, longer recovery times or even death in worst cases. It is therefore essential for medical professionals to act quickly when it comes to medical conditions or the onset of any symptoms. In this article we will be exploring why it is crucial for treatment and surgery to be acted upon quickly and the impacts that delays could have on patients. 


Why is early treatment so important?

When a patient receives prompt medical treatment, it can make a significant difference in the overall health outcomes for the patient. There are many reasons as to why it is so important for patients to receive treatment quickly, a significant reason being that it can prevent a patient’s condition from getting worse. In many cases, early diagnosis and treatment can stop the progression of a disease, therefore making it more manageable and less severe for the patient.  

Acting quickly when it comes to surgery can also improve the chances of a successful outcome. In surgical cases, timing is extremely critical and delays can lead to an increased risk of complications during surgery. By acting quickly, surgeons and other medical professionals can often perform procedures more effectively and with fewer complications. It is therefore crucial for medical professionals to act quickly when they are referring patients for treatment of any kind. 


NHS waiting times 

If you have been referred for a physical or a mental health condition, you are entitled to start non-urgent consultant-led treatment, or be seen by a specialist for suspected cancer within the maximum wait times that are set out by the NHS, this is your legal right as a patient.

The maximum wait time for non urgent, consultant led treatments is 18 weeks. This waiting time will start from when the hospital receives your referral letter or when you book your first appointment. During this 18 week time period, you may have tests, medicine or be referred to another consultant. Your 18 week waiting time will end if your clinician decides that you do not need treatment, if you decide that you do not want treatment, or when your treatment begins. 

There are certain reasons why the 18 week wait may not apply, this can include: 

  • If the patient decides to wait longer for their treatment 
  • If delaying the start of treatment is in the best interest of the patient 
  • If the patient fails to attend any appointments 
  • If the treatment is no longer necessary for the patient 

If you have received a referral for suspected cancer, the maximum waiting time is different, the maximum waiting time set by the NHS is two weeks from the day that your appointment has been booked through the NHS e-Referral service, or when the hospital receives your referral letter. 


NHS waiting time statistics 

The NHS have recently published statistics on referral to treatment (RTT) waiting times for consultant led elective care. The statistics found that at the end of November 2022, there were 59.6% of patients who were waiting up to 18 weeks to start their treatment. The number of RTT patients who were waiting to start their treatment at the end of November 2022 was 7.2 million. Out of those 7.2 million patients, 406,575 were waiting more than 52 weeks for their treatment, 48,961 were waiting more than 78 weeks and 1,423 patients were waiting more than 104 weeks. 

The chart below shows the amount of patients who were waiting more than 18 weeks for their treatment to start over the past 10 years: 

Source: NHS 


Impacts of delayed treatment and surgery

Time is crucial when it comes to treatment and surgery, unfortunately delays in treatment or surgery can have serious consequences for a patient’s health and can potentially lead to life-threatening conditions. A significant impact of delayed treatment is the progression of the underlying health condition that the patient has. For example, if you delay treatment, then illnesses could spread to other parts of the patient’s body or their illness could become terminal and cause the patient to be in a lot more pain. Delayed surgery can also increase the risk of complications during surgery and after the surgery has taken place, this can lead to the patient having to stay in hospital for a longer period of time and having a prolonged recovery time. 

When a patient has received delays for their treatment or surgery, it can have a severe impact on their quality of life. Patients may experience prolonged pain, reduced mobility and less of an ability to carry out daily activities. This can have many effects for patients, it may affect their ability to work and socialise and can therefore potentially have detrimental effects on the patients mental health. 


Why do delays in treatment/ surgery happen? 

There are several reasons why delays in treatment and surgeries can occur: 

  • High demand – the NHS in particular is under immense pressure due to the high demand for medical services. The ageing population and amount of people with chronic diseases have contributed to a rise in demand for healthcare services, potentially leading to longer waiting times for treatment and surgery 
  • Limited resources – the NHS has limited resources including staff, equipment, facilities and financial resources. This means that it is challenging for the NHS to meet the increased demand for medical services. 
  • Prioritisation of cases – medical professionals will prioritise urgent cases over non-urgent cases. This means that patients that have life-threatening conditions or patients that require emergency treatment will be seen first, leading to longer waiting times and delays for patients that have less critical conditions 
  • Covid-19 pandemic – The Covid-19 pandemic has put unprecedented strain on the NHS meaning that there are now more people on treatment waiting lists than there were before the pandemic. 

Delays in treatment and surgeries are due to several factors including high demand, limited resources and many more. Addressing these factors is crucial to ensuring that patients are receiving timely medical treatment and are not suffering due to delays. 


Claiming for delayed treatment 

Receiving medical treatment can be an extremely daunting experience, and knowing that your treatment or surgery was delayed can be extremely difficult. When treatment is delayed, your condition could become worse as a result of this delay and the distress of this can also have negative impacts on your wellbeing. If you have received a delay in relation to your treatment or surgery, you may be entitled to compensation. 

An avoidable delay can have serious consequences but not all delayed treatment is significant. You can claim compensation if you have suffered pain, injury loss or damage as a result of the delay in treatment. If there has been no harm to the patient as a result of the delay, then the delay will not be considered significant and it is likely that you would not receive compensation. 

At Patient Claim Line, the process of making a delay in treatment/ surgery claim is quick and easy and our trained medical negligence solicitors will investigate your claim for you on a no win no fee basis. So if you think you may have a claim relating to delayed treatment, fill out our make a claim form and find out for free.

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