WAITING times for operations and outpatient appointments at St George’s Hospital fell to an all-time low in December after a year of ‘very strong progress’ for clinical care, according to one of its medical directors.

Six months is now the maximum amount of time patients can expect to wait for surgery at the hospital while the maximum wait for an outpatient appointment has been capped at 13 weeks.

Figures show around 400 patients were waiting more than six months for surgery in May 2005 though by December that number had fallen to zero.

Three years ago, patients would have waited up to a year for surgery and 21 weeks to see a consultant.

Medical Director Mr Mike Bailey says:

“The care we offer our patients has improved significantly this year and we have made very strong progress with our waiting times, our capacity and most importantly the quality of our care.

“Clinical care has been advanced through the introduction of new services and treatments that have allowed us to improve outcomes for our patients.”

The improved access for patients comes as figures show the hospital has been able to treat thousands more patients in the last nine months through an efficiency drive linked to its financial recovery programme.

Around 5,200 extra patients have been treated since April 2005 – including 2,200 inpatients, 1,700 A&E patients and 1,200 day surgery patients.

The rise in activity has been made possible by reducing the amount of time patients stay in hospital where – and only where – clinically appropriate. The average length of stay across the hospital has fallen from seven days to less than six while the number of operations cancelled by the hospital for non-clinical reasons in the last nine months has fallen by nearly 60 per cent compared to the previous year (370 down from 862).

The hospital’s performance in 2005 has been praised by several independent bodies. CHKS, a company that analyses clinical quality, named it as one of the country’s top performing hospitals and the most improved hospital for clinical care earlier in the year.

Meanwhile, a national review of day surgery by the Healthcare Commission named St George’s as the eighth most efficient hospital in the country based on the percentage of operations carried out as day case procedures.

2005 also saw the hospital make a number of advances in clinical care.

It reduced the maximum waiting time for heart surgery to below three months, saw 98 per cent A&E patients within four hours, it curbed the spread of MRSA bloodstream infections with the launch of ambitious infection control strategy, and received national acclaim for its publication of mortality statistics – the first hospital in the country to do so.

Other clinical successes included a landmark operation to extract a patient’s kidney using keyhole surgery, new treatment to prevent infections and complications after operations, the use of a clot-busting drug to stop prevent permanent paralysis in stroke victims, and the launch of a new emergency angioplasty service for patients suffering from a heart attack.

2005 was also a year in which the hospital sought to improve its financial position with the aim of balancing its books by 2007.

The hospital ended 2004/05 with an overspend of ?21.7m and is now ?1.3m away from achieving the in-year target deficit of ?12.5m required by the South West London Strategic Health Authority.

“There is still some way to go before we achieve financial balance,” continues Mike Bailey, “and become the world-class hospital that we aspire to be.”

“But the fact that we have saved money this year and increased both the quantity and quality of our care is a huge achievement and one which everyone who works at the hospital can be proud of.”