Intended for healthcare professionals


Community care waiting lists and older people

BMJ 2001; 322 doi: (Published 03 February 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;322:254

Community services lack a measure as visible as surgical waiting lists

  1. John Young, professor (,
  2. Stuart Turnock, senior manager, public services research
  1. Elderly Care Department, St Luke's Hospital, Bradford BD5 0NA
  2. Audit Commission, London SW1P 2PN

    The surgical waiting list is a simple summary statistic representing a barometer for the NHS in the United Kingdom. Its rise or fall is an important measure by which politicians and managers gauge the effectiveness of policy and the adequacy of resources. It has a highly visible public profile and is clearly influential in triggering additional resources—as, for example, in sporadic waiting list initiatives. But there is a further fundamental component to health service provision, community care, which is not represented by any simple statistic and is therefore strategically disadvantaged in claiming the public's and politicians' attention.

    The surgical waiting list as a performance indicator has been criticised for ascribing equal importance to unequal situations such as cancer and varicose veins. Also it distorts healthcare planning and provision through an excessive and unbalanced focus on elective surgery which directs attention away from acute care services. Nevertheless, the acute services have their own global indicator, which is the number of emergency …

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