THE POSTCODE LOTTERY

  • There have been concerns since the late 1990s about the notion of the postcode lottery, rising from differences in access to NHS treatment throughout the country, and concerns that where you live can define the quality and availability of NHS services you can expect.
  • The postcode lottery has become a big issue in the NHS, where the gap between the idea of a nationwide, comprehensive service and the reality of local decision making has been increasingly tense.
  • Services which have been affected by the postcode lottery have included access to certain cancer drugs, fertility treatments, hernia repair, hip and knee replacements, cataracts and varicose vein surgeries, as well as variations in waiting times, access to cancer screening programmes and availability of drugs for mental health conditions.
  • The postcode lottery came about largely from the practice of GP fundholding during the 1990s, a system which enabled GPs to receive a fixed budget from which to pay for primary care, drugs, and non-urgent hospital treatment for patients. The concept of a postcode lottery is also a by-product of patients and consumers becoming more aware: patient groups have become more adept at lobbying for their consumer "rights" to drugs and services.
  • In 2008, Gordon Brown vowed to end the NHS postcode lottery, to mark the 60th anniversary of the NHS, and the issue of the postcode lottery has continued to come under much scrutiny in the context of the 2012 Health and Social Care Act.
  • The increase in rationing within the NHS has led to an increase in the effects of the postcode lottery, in determining which patients have access to certain treatments. In April 2013, the NHS published generic commissioning policies, in order to ensure fair and consistent decision making across the board. with the aim of reducing the impact of the postcode lottery by making treatments available to all, regardless of where they live.

 

Budget cuts hitting mental health patients, says UNISON survey (Union-news.co.uk: 21 November 2016)

More than four in five (83%) staff working in mental health surveyed said a postcode lottery exists in the level of care that patients receive. In some cases, people with severe conditions such as chronic anxiety and schizophrenia are unable to access help until they have reached crisis point.

The findings are based on a survey of more than 1,000 staff such as therapists, nurses and social workers employed by mental health care services including the NHS and councils across the UK.

The survey also highlights how increased patient demand for services, coupled with cuts in services have left those staff left behind facing intolerable pressures.

More than four in five (85%) surveyed said they had experienced cutbacks, and nearly nine in ten (88%) reported an increased workload. This has led to longer waiting times for patients before they can get help, according to more than half (52%) of staff, says UNISON.

UNISON head of health Christina McAnea said: “The government has pledged £1.25bn for mental health but services are still having budgets reduced. No-one should have to wait weeks to get the support they need, and staff shouldn’t be placed under such pressure that they risk using mental health services themselves.

“With fewer staff and more people seeking help, it’s no wonder that employees who dedicate their lives to helping others feel at breaking point. Funding for mental health services must reach those in need and not be diverted to plug gaps elsewhere in the NHS.”....read more

 

'Postcode lottery' revealed in NHS care (The Guardian: 8 September 2016)

Patients with dementia, diabetes and learning disabilities are being let down by their local health services in many parts of England, new figures show.

A postcode lottery of care across the country has been highlighted as new performance data shows that while some health bodies are performing well, neighbouring organisations are falling short.

More than half (57%) of local health bodies in England are not performing well enough on dementia, 71% are classed as “needs improvement” for diabetes care and 92% need to improve care for people with learning disabilities, the figures show.

The figures, released by NHS England, show that many clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) have been classed as needing improvement in the different aspects of care....read more

 

NHS success in tackling health inequality varies hugely across England (The Guardian: 20 August 2016)

The social divide in hospital admissions – which means far more poor people end up in hospital for preventable conditions than richer people – varies dramatically across England, researchers have found.

Data compiled by the University of York for NHS England revealed that the performance of a clinical commissioning group (CCG) in tackling the social divide in these preventable hospital admissions is not always linked to how rich or poor the CCG’s patient population is.

Liverpool clinical commissioning group, which appears on the worst performers list, and Tower Hamlets and Portsmouth CCGs, which appear on the best performers list, each serve some of the most deprived neighbourhoods in the country.

At the wealthy end of the scale, South Cheshire performs badly on inequalities, while East Surrey CCG performs well, appearing in the top 10....read more

 

New 'dementia atlas' reveals disparity in care across England (The Guardian: 16 August 2016)

People with dementia are being let down by local services across the country, according to new government data that critics say has revealed a postcode lottery in care for the chronic and degenerative brain disease.

An interactive “dementia atlas”, published online on Tuesday by the Department of Health, shows that standards of care vary widely in different areas, with services failing to reach almost half the patients for check-ups even once a year in one area....read more

 

Charity nurses warn of ‘postcode lottery’ in specialist children's care (Nursing Times: 23 May 2016)

Expert children’s nurses have highlighted wide variations in services and standards for children with complex health needs as the ground-breaking charity nursing scheme celebrates its 10th anniversary.

Services provided by its nurses have made a dramatic difference to families including reducing distressing emergency hospital admissions and cutting lengthy stays in hospital.

However, nurses and managers involved in the scheme warn that many children with complex health conditions still face a “postcode lottery” when it comes to getting all-round support. Problems include reductions in children’s community nursing teams, huge variation in the types of services available and a lack of emotional support and training for parents caring for seriously ill children....read more

 

Jeremy Hunt urged to act against avoidable deaths from epilepsy (The Independent: 12 March 2016)

The Epilepsy Society has launched a new campaign calling on the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to act against avoidable deaths from the condition.

Although sufferers are at greater risk of premature death, almost four in 10 of those deaths are avoidable, according to the charity, which says better care, treatment and services are urgently needed. It has also launched an online campaign urging MPs to write to Mr Hunt requesting that a National Clinical Audit into the condition take place – for the first time since 2002. 

[...]

The Epilepsy Society said the most worrying aspect is the postcode lottery for the 500,000 people in England living with the condition. Data from the Office for National Statistics shows that rates of premature death vary vastly: for example, someone with epilepsy is 49 per cent more likely to die prematurely in West Yorkshire than in Cheshire...read more

 

Prestigious teaching trust restricts access to heart service (HSJ: 1 March 2016)

A prestigious teaching hospital trust has temporarily restricted access to its outpatient cardiology service for out of area referrals, a leaked letter has revealed.

Cambridge University Hospitals Foundation Trust said the move was driven by its waiting list for routine cardiology outpatients rising by 50 patients a week and staff shortages. A leaked letter from the trust and its lead commissioner Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group said it made the move to avoid “potential safety concerns associated with excessively increased waiting times”.

The trust said the move was to ‘bring waiting times back to a safe level’

The trust has told commissioners outside its main Cambridgeshire catchment area that their GP practices should send patients to “a different cardiology provider with immediate effect”...read more 

 

The postcode lottery of new mothers' mental health services (The Guardian: 10 February 2016)

The arrival of a baby is supposed to be one of the happiest times of a woman’s life. But for a sizeable minority, it takes a heavy toll on their mental health, posing a risk to the welfare of mother and baby alike.

More than one in 10 women develop a mental illness while expecting a child or in the first year after giving birth. For about 40,000 women it is severe and in extreme cases necessitates admitting mother and baby to a specialist unit...read more

 

Diabetes care 'varies hugely' across England (Independent: 22 January 2016)

There is an “unduly healthy picture” of the care patients receive for the condition, according to a new report.

The Department of Health and NHS England paint an “unduly healthy picture” of the state of diabetes services in England, MPs have said.

The Public Accounts Committee said weaknesses in the approach of both organisations - and a lack of focus on preventing long-term complications from the condition - mean “the costs of diabetes to the NHS will continue to rise”.

MPs found that while evidence suggests the UK performs well compared to other countries, there are still “unacceptable variations” in how people with diabetes are able to access education about their condition. Furthermore, only 60 per cent receive the annual checks recommended to keep them healthy and prevent long-term complications.

The report said diabetes specialist staffing levels in hospitals “are not keeping pace” with the increasing percentage of beds occupied by diabetes patients.

It said: “The percentage of beds in acute hospitals in England occupied by people with diabetes continues to rise, from 14.8 per cent in 2010 to 15.7 per cent in 2013.

“However, the level of diabetic specialists has not significantly changed over this period. In 2013, nearly one-third of hospitals in England taking part in the audit had no diabetes inpatient specialist nurse and 6 per cent did not have any consultant time for diabetes inpatient care. “NHS England told us that an increase in nursing numbers isn't likely in the next year or two.” ... read more

 

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