Deprived patients facing longer waits

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WAITING times for a common heart procedure are 20 per cent longer for patients living in deprived parts of England compared to patients at the same hospital who are from more affluent neighbourhoods, researchers from the University of York have shown.

Academics say the study “sounds a warning signal” about social inequality, and while the reasons behind the vast difference in waiting periods are not known, previous studies have shown that unconscious bias by clinicians towards more affluent patients capable of lodging effective complaints might be a factor.

Around 20,000 people a year undergo non-emergency coronary angioplasty, which sees stents inserted into blocked arteries.

Professor Richard Cookson, from the University of York’s Centre for Health Economics, said: “Average hospital waiting times in England have been rising since 2008, but our latest research sounds a warning signal that social inequality in waiting times for some elective procedures may also be increasing at the same time.

“In the early 2000s waiting time inequality was even higher – more like a 50 per cent gap between most and least advantaged groups – but then fell to around 10 per cent by 2008 alongside large falls in average waiting times for surgery. After 2008, however, average waiting times started to increase, and the gap between people from affluent and disadvantaged backgrounds also appears to be creeping upwards.”