18 weeks is about delivering the right care, at the right time, of the right quality. The reasoning behind the 18 week target is that patients should be able to receive excellent care without any unnecessary delays. In December 2008 the 18 week target was implemented. Now, the longest patients have to wait after being referred by their GP until they start treatment is 18 weeks - that is, unless it is clinically appropriate to wait longer, or the patient chooses to delay treatment. Wherever possible patients will wait less than this.
Any hospital appointments, tests, scans or other procedures that patients may need before being treated will all happen within this maximum time limit. The 18 week target focuses closely on pathways that involve consultant led care, setting a maximum time of 18 weeks from the point of initial referral to the start of any treatment necessary and clinically appropriate.
What does 18 weeks mean for patients?
A focus on ending the 'culture of waiting' in the NHS. The overall patient experience should be improved by lower waiting times.
Everyone who chooses to be treated within 18 weeks, and for whom it is clinically relevant, will be treated in that timeframe.
With these much lower waiting times and other changes taking place across the NHS - like patient choice - GPs are likely to only refer patients for treatment when they are fit and their personal circumstances allow them to be treated.
High quality care will continue, irrespective of whether it is provided by the NHS or independent sector.
Diagnostic tests and outpatient appointments will be carried out closer to home as more services are provided in the community and by GPs. On an increasing scale, patients will only need to go to hospital for specialist treatment.