Waiting time until first outpatient appointment

An important part of the 18-week referral-to-treatment (RTT) pathway is the first outpatient appointment.  This is where the patient is assessed by a specialist to decide whether further tests are needed and what the likely course of treatment might be. We explore how long people wait for their first outpatient appointment following a referral. There are no specific expectations of a maximum wait from referral by a GP or other health professional to the patient's first outpatient attendance, and not all pathways are included in the 18-week RRT commitment. 

What proportion of people have their first outpatient appointment within 18 weeks?

The proportion of people having their first outpatient appointment within 18 weeks of referral has been falling slightly, from 97% in 2008/09 to 95% in 2012/13. This is reflected in similar downward trends in the four highest volume specialties: trauma and orthopaedics (2.6 million first outpatient attendances in 2012/13), allied health professional (AHP) episodes (2.4 million), general surgery (2.0 million) and ophthalmology (1.9 million). Ophthalmology and AHP specialties have consistently lower proportions of people receiving their first outpatient attendances within 18 weeks of referral compared to all specialities, but only by 1 or 2%.

Source: 
Health & Social Care Information Centre, Hospital Episode Statistics (Copyright 2013, Re-used with the permission of the Health & Social Care Information Centre. All rights reserved)

Do patients wait longer for mental health first outpatient appointments?

The proportion of people having their first outpatient appointment within 18 weeks of referral to a mental health speciality had increased from 77% in 2008/09 to 83% in 2010/11. This meant that it was closing the significant gap to waiting times for physical health specialties, which was 97% in that year. However, the proportion waiting fewer than 18 weeks for mental health specialties has since fallen to 74% in 2012/13. This pattern seems broadly consistent across all mental health specialties, although a notably lower proportion of learning disability patients wait for less than 18 weeks (52% in 2012/13).

Source: 

Health & Social Care Information Centre, Hospital Episode Statistics (Copyright 2013, Re-used with the permission of the Health & Social Care Information Centre. All rights reserved)

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