Hospital doctor's concern over middle class priority as waiting lists grow

Doctor in scrubs with stethoscope round neck

There is concern ‘sharp-elbowed’ and ‘articulate middle class’ patients may be prioritised for hospital treatment, as waiting lists grow due to the COVID-19 pandemic - Credit: Pexels

A hospital consultant has raised concerns the ‘sharp-elbowed’ and ‘articulate middle class’ may be prioritised for treatment as waiting lists grow.

Latest figures show there are now more than 3,000 people across Hertfordshire who have been waiting for 52 weeks or more for hospital treatment.

Concerns about who may get to the top of those lists fastest have been raised by Dr Dermot O’Riordan at a joint meeting of the Hertfordshire and West Essex clinical commissioning groups.

He said: "I am really nervous we will end up prioritising the sharp-elbowed and articulate middle class, who know which buttons to press and who to talk to and how to get the systems working in their favour.

“There are a lot of other patients who are too polite to bother doctors, who will not make a fuss, who actually may have at least as great a clinical need.


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“I don’t have an easy answer, but somehow, across the board, we need to have a system whereby we truly are prioritising on clinical need."

Dr O’Riodan – a consultant general surgeon at West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust – is a member of the East and North Herts CCG's governing body.

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He made the remarks during a discussion about clinical harm reviews – carried out wherever a patient has waited 52 weeks or more for treatment, or there has been a breach of the 62-day cancer standard.

Dr O'Riodan said: “Clearly the reviews are important and have to be done, but they have to be 'a light touch,' otherwise clinicians could spend all their time doing reviews and not actually seeing patients.”

Waiting lists for some treatments have increased significantly due to the suspension of routine hospital care during the pandemic.

Hospital trusts have continued to prioritise the diagnosis and treatment of patients with cancer.

Dr Jane Halpin, Hertfordshire and West Essex Integrated Care System lead, said: “Our services remain open and we continue to prioritise patients with the most urgent clinical needs and are using extra catch-up clinics and operating sessions in the evening, at weekends and at local independent sector hospitals to do so.

“If any patient feels their symptoms have changed, or they have new concerns, they should contact their GP practice or the department they are receiving treatment from so our clinicians can ensure they continue to be fully supported.”

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