The National Health Service (NHS) in England is continuing to make progress in reducing the length of time which patients have to wait to receive a diagnostic test in 15 key areas, the Department of Health (DoH) reported yesterday.

In June, the number of patients in England who had, by the end of the month, been waiting more than six weeks for one of the key diagnostic tests had fallen to 10,100, 1,700 fewer than at the end of May and a decline of 14.2%. It is also a fall of 200,900, or 95.2%, compared with June 2007, says the Department.

In addition, the number of patients who had been waiting for more than 13 weeks for a test totaled 2,000 by end-June, which is 700 down compared with the end of May and 93,400 fewer - a drop of 95.2% - from June 2007.

Audiology assessments account for the highest share of long waits, the Department notes, but adds that these are also continuing to fall, with the number of patients waiting more than six weeks having gone down 250, or 11.5%, to 1,900 between the end of May and end-June this year.

“This data will help the NHS in delivering the 18-week maximum wait from general practitioners (GP) to treatment, including all diagnostic tests, by end-2008,” says the Department. This target, which was initially set out in the government’s 2004 NHS Improvement Plan, includes the further requirements that the wait from GP referral to initial outpatient consultation should not exceed five weeks, and that no single stage of the pathway should last longer than 12 weeks. As commissioners of services, Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) will be held directly accountable for the achievement of the pathway for their patients, according to the Department’s implementation policy for the 18-week patient pathway, which was published in May 2006.

* The 15 key diagnostic tests covered by the data are: magnetic resonance imaging (MRI); computer tomography (CT); non-obstetric ultrasound; barium enema; DEXA scan; audiological assessments; cardiology – echocardiography and electrophysiology; neurophysiology – peripheral neurophysiology; respiratory physiology – sleep studies; urodynamics – pressures and flows; colonoscopy; flexi sigmoidoscopy; cystoscopy; and gastroscopy.