Communications with patients on healthcare waiting lists

This investigation found that the system for communicating with patients on healthcare waiting lists is in ‘disarray’, and concluded that significant and repeated failures across the system amounted to ‘systemic maladministration’.

It urged the Department of Health to work with Health Trusts, GPs and others to address the failings.

Report Summary

The investigation obtained evidence from the Department of Health and all Healthcare Trusts, as well as responses from a survey of GPs and members of the public. 

It found that failures by Trusts to follow guidance means that patients are given little or no information once a healthcare referral has been made. This includes information on: 

• whether they are on a waiting list; 

• whether their case is classed as routine, urgent or red flag; 

• their expected wait time; or, 

• who to contact if their circumstances change. 

The report was critical of the Department for not reviewing the IEAP (procedure for managing waiting lists) since 2009, and that it took no action to reinforce the guidelines. With Trusts providing only limited or no waiting list information directly to patients, the investigation found that the onus often falls on patients to find it themselves. However, the lack of communication meant that patients did not know who to contact for further information or who to approach if their condition worsened. 

Although 44% of respondents said that they did not want to put additional pressure on the health service by asking questions, a number of case studies highlighted that often only through sheer persistence, or by making a complaint to a Trust, did patients find out about the status of their referral. 

The report included a number of recommendations to Trusts and the Department, which will continue to be followed up by the Ombudsman.

Watch a short film of Ombudsman Margaret Kelly discuss how the investigation was carried out, the report’s findings, and her recommendations for improvements to the Department of Health and the Trusts.

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Health & Social Care
Department of HealthHealth and Social Care Trusts
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