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Optimising waiting: a view from the English National Health Service

Anthony J. Harrison and John Appleby ()

Health Economics, Policy and Law, 2010, vol. 5, issue 4, 397-409

Abstract: Recent authors have proposed that waiting times for elective treatment should be reduced to the point where the costs of doing so exceed the benefits. This paper considers how this criterion could be put into effect. Taking benefits first it argues that these could be estimated in three different ways – social cost benefit, clinical and user valuation – that would not necessarily produce consistent results and hence a choice has to be made between them. It then considers the costs of reducing waits and argues, citing relevant evidence, that these may range widely according to whether or not reductions can be achieved through simple management measures or whether more long-term capacity is required. It concludes therefore that the apparently simple criterion proposed for defining the point where waiting times are optimal is hard to establish. Choice of criterion must be made in the light of the overall values that a given health care system is intended to promote.

Date: 2010
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