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NHS funding squeeze 'making it harder to access hip and knee surgery'

Published on 06 July 2017
NHS funding squeeze 'making it harder to access hip and knee surgery'

People with arthritis and other joint health problems are finding it increasingly difficult to access surgical treatment due to the current squeeze on NHS funding.

This is according to a new investigation by the British Medical Journal, which has indicated that hospitals are having to apply for exceptional funding for an increasingly wide range of treatments, as many procedures that were once considered to be routine are no longer being funded as standard.

Growing limitations on routine surgical procedures
Data collected for the report under a freedom of information request show that doctors had to make 73,900 individual funding requests to clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) last year. This is a 47 per cent rise from 2013-14, while in the past 12 months alone, the number of requests rose by more than 20 per cent.

Overall, 52 per cent the requests made in 2016-17 were approved, but even those who were granted access to treatment often had to wait several months for it, resulting in stress and additional pain.

Hip and knee surgery are becoming particularly difficult to obtain through the NHS, as the number of exceptional funding requests for these procedures rose from 49 to 899 between 2013-14 and 2016-17.

The impact of constrained funding
It is widely acknowledged that the current financial challenges faced by the NHS are the primary cause of this trend, with Julie Wood, chief executive of NHS Clinical Commissioners, explaining that the issue of funding is becoming increasingly difficult to solve.

She said: "Unfortunately, the NHS does not have unlimited resources, and ensuring that patients get high-quality care against a backdrop of spiralling demand and increasing financial pressures is one of the biggest issues CCGs face."

However, Stephen Cannon, vice president of the Royal College of Surgeons, noted that this line of logic may be misguided in the case of hip and knee replacements, as patients who are denied access to surgery will cost the NHS due to their need for physiotherapy, pain medication and other support.

Arthritis Research UK's view
Tracey Loftis, head of policy and public affairs at Arthritis Research UK, commented: "We are disappointed to learn about the increase in the number of special requests for funding for hip and knee surgeries, which are routine operations.

"Joint replacement surgery is very effective at reducing pain and restoring independence. Access to this surgery is the difference between people going to work, walking to the shops on their own or even being able to sleep through the night. We believe that receiving the appropriate treatment should be based on clinical need and individually assessed by a surgeon.

"The NHS Constitution describes patients' rights to access treatment, and NHS England, NHS Improvement and CCGs should ensure that these standards are met."

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