Revealed: How patients in different areas of Norfolk wait weeks longer for same NHS treatment
- Credit: Archant
Patients are being urged to shop around different hospitals for treatment to avoid unnecessarily long waiting times.
It comes as NHS figures show patients can wait up to 15 weeks longer for the same treatment in different parts of Norfolk and Waveney.
But the NHS denied there was a 'postcode lottery' for waiting times as patients can chose to be treated in different parts of the country or county at hospitals with lower waiting times.
Waiting times for some procedures vary wildly between different areas of Norfolk and Waveney.
In West Norfolk, for example, the average waiting time from referral to hospital treatment for cardiology was four weeks in May, June and July this year, according to NHS England data.
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In North Norfolk it was almost 16 weeks.
It means that patients in North Norfolk were waiting on average 14 weeks longer for cardiology treatment in hospital than if they had hopped a few miles into West Norfolk.
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But when it comes to dermatology or ear, nose and throat (ENT) treatment, patients will want to move out of West Norfolk quickly.
Waiting times there were almost 23 weeks from May to July for dermatology compared to 16 weeks in North Norfolk.
And they were six weeks longer for ENT.
According to the data, the biggest differences in waiting times were in gynaecology.
In the Great Yarmouth and Waveney area, patients had to wait for just five weeks on average from being referred by their GP to hospital treatment.
In Norwich, they had to wait for almost 20 weeks.
In Taverham patients are in the Norwich Clinical Commissioning Group area where waiting times for gynaecology treatment at hospital were 20 weeks on average.
Just over one mile away at Drayton Medical Practice, patients are in the North Norfolk CCG area and waited on average six weeks less.
Two miles south in Costessey, patients are in the South Norfolk CCG area were again average waiting times are three weeks less than Norwich for gynaecology and two weeks less for general surgery.
The fact that patients can chose where to be treated meant, the NHS said, that waiting times did not differ for patients living in different areas of Norfolk.
But there are fears most patients will chose the nearest hospital their GP refers them to, not realising that could mean waiting for several weeks longer for treatment than their neighbours.
Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk, consumer champion for health and social care, said: 'Patients should be offered a choice, but in reality, are most likely to go wherever they are initially referred.
'As a local healthwatch we are committed to ensuring patients have choice over the accessibility of services and will work with health commissioners to reduce the postcode lottery in any way we can.'
The NHS in Norfolk is split into five areas called Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) which are led by GPs.
We looked at NHS England data showing average referral to treatment waiting times for those areas for eight procedures. They were cardiology, dermatology, ear nose and throat, general surgery, gynaecology, trauma and orthopaedics, plastic surgery and urology. The smallest differences in waiting times were trauma and orthopaedics.
A spokesman for the CCGs said: 'Waiting times are not dictated by where in Norfolk and Waveney you live.
'The data observed... happens to be collected on a CCG by CCG basis. This cannot be taken to imply that an individual's waiting time is different because they live in an adjacent CCG area.
'Patients can choose which hospital they want to be treated in, either locally or anywhere in the country – providing the hospital is equipped to do so.'
The spokesman added: 'There are always some hospitals that are busier than others.'
In Norfolk and Waveney the NHS is working on reducing the differences in waiting times and care through something called a Sustainability and Transformation Partnership (STP).
Patricia Hewitt, independent chair of the STP, said in an interview with this newspaper in October that she wanted to get rid of 'unacceptable' variations in quality of care.
'We want to make sure everyone in Norfolk and Waveney is getting the best quality care wherever they live,' she said.
•Neighbours can get different IVF treatments
It is not just waiting times which can vary across Norfolk but also some treatments patients are eligible for.
Those in the South Norfolk CCG area and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, for example, do not get any rounds of IVF on the NHS.
But couples struggling to conceive, who live in other parts of Norfolk, get two free rounds.
It means two different couples who live nearby and are struggling to conceive would be entitled to different levels of care on the NHS if they fall into a different CCG area.
For example patients registered to a GP surgery in Cringleford are in the South Norfolk CCG area and would get no IVF on the NHS.
But those registered next door in Eaton - which is Norwich CCG - would get two rounds.
Dr Mike Macnamee, chief executive of Bourn Hall Clinic, said the cutting of NHS IVF services made it a 'postcode lottery' for patients.
South Norfolk became one of the first CCGs to cut fertility treatment in 2015.