A Norwich hospital will not be able to meet targets for treating patients within 18 weeks for operations such as hip and knee replacements until February 2013, a meeting has heard.

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The Evening News has previously reported on concerns over the waiting times for patients needing planned orthopaedic and trauma surgery at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, and the issue was one of the key topics of discussion at a meeting of the board of NHS Norfolk and Waveney yesterday afternoon.

The commissioner, who oversees and pays the N&N for its health care, has now called for answers over why it will take so long for the hospital to meet a target of treating 90pc of patients within 18 weeks from referral, otherwise known as Referral To Treatment (RTT) waiting times.

Andrew Morgan, chief executive of NHS Norfolk and Waveney, said the biggest of the area’s ongoing performance issues were with the 18-week RTT times, which have been a particular issue at Gorleston’s James Paget University Hospital and the N&N.

He said: “Both are linked to clearing the backlog of people who are already waiting over 18 weeks, while at the same time continuing to treat 90pc of patients in 18 weeks. If I had to rank them, our particular concerns are at the N&N, specifically in trauma and orthopaedics. He added: “At the moment the N&N are saying they won’t be able to treat 90pc within 18 weeks until February 2013.”

Mr Morgan said the primary care trust (PCT) would be asking to see the N&N’s workings on how it had come up with the February deadline, and will be pressing hard to check that everything possible was being done to bring times down.

He also questioned if patients were being offered the choice to have their operation with an alternative independent or NHS provider if they were not able to be treated within the time frame, as set out in the NHS constitution.

Sheila Childerhouse, chairman of the PCT, said: “We are now in July and we are looking at patients potentially not being treated until after Christmas and that means patients in pain.”

Non-executive director Jeff Halliwell said he felt even the national target itself was not good enough for patients.

He said: “What that means is that one in 10 people will still be in a situation where they have a debilitating condition but have to wait over four-and-a-half months for treatment.

“What sort of target is that anyway?”

Members of the board agreed that an in-depth systemic look at capacity, demography, as well as the way that surgeons and hospitals work was also needed so that the problem would not be a recurring issue.

The N&N was unavailable for comment, but has previously said its 18-week performance had been affected by an agreement, made with the PCT, to treat more patients who have been waiting over 18 weeks, which is fairer to those who have waited the longest.

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