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Equity, waiting times, and NHS reforms: retrospective study

Zachary N Cooper, Alistair McGuire, S Jones and J Le Grand
BMJ: British Medical Journal
Vol. 339, No. 7722 (19 September 2009), pp. 673-675
Published by: BMJ
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25672699
Page Count: 3
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Equity, waiting times, and NHS reforms: retrospective study
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Abstract

Objective To determine whether observable changes in waiting times occurred for certain key elective procedures between 1997 and 2007 in the English National Health Service and to analyse the distribution of those changes between socioeconomic groups as an indicator of equity. Design Retrospective study of population-wide, patient level data using ordinary least squares regression to investigate the statistical relation between waiting times and patients' socioeconomic status. Setting English NHS from 1997 to 2007. Participants 427 277 patients who had elective knee replacement, 406 253 who had elective hip replacement, and 2 568 318 who had elective cataract repair. Main outcome measures Days waited from referral for surgery to surgery itself; socioeconomic status based on Carstairs index of deprivation. Results Mean and median waiting times rose initially and then fell steadily over time. By 2007 variation in waiting times across the population tended to be lower. In 1997 waiting times and deprivation tended to be positively related. By 2007 the relation between deprivation and waiting time was less pronounced, and, in some cases, patients from the most deprived fifth were waiting less time than patients from the most advantaged fifth. Conclusions Between 1997 and 2007 waiting times for patients having elective hip replacement, knee replacement, and cataract repair in England went down and the variation in waiting times for those procedures across socioeconomic groups was reduced. Many people feared that the government's NHS reforms would lead to inequity, but inequity with respect to waiting times did not increase; if anything, it decreased. Although proving that the later stages of those reforms, which included patient choice, provider competition, and expanded capacity, was a catalyst for improvements in equity is impossible, the data show that these reforms, at a minimum, did not harm equity.

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