Waiting lists for operations in Spain

Carmen and Miguel are just two of the 287,950 people who, according to figures recorded last year, have been waiting for an operation in Spain for seven and eleven months respectively. However, according to figures provided by regional health authorities the national average is just 66.55 days, just over two months, for operations on the national health.

El Pais runs a report today in which it claims to have discovered that the regions with the longest waiting lists for operations are: Cantabria (152.16 days), Catalonia (117.95), Galicia (84), Aragón (77) and Extremadura (67). These five regions all have waiting lists above the national average. The regions with the shortest waiting lists are Melilla (31.73 days), La Rioja (40) and la Comunidad Valenciana (45).

Madrid and the Canary Islands are not included in the figures. Madrid doesn’t record the number of days a patient has to wait for an operation until he or she sees the anaesthetist, a practice which takes about 30 days off the waiting time, which is why the government has excluded it from official statistics.

While the Canary Islands refuses to publish figures on its waiting lists, although information provided in June 2006 placed it near the bottom of the list.

It appears that the government is partly responsible for the lack of transparency on waiting lists at a national level. The Ministry of Health has refused to publish waiting lists for each region although it receives information on the number of patients waiting for an operation every quarter. Furthermore, the information it receives is broken down into specialities and includes numbers for the 11 most commonly performed operations. The government has tried to cover up its silence by citing the agreement it has with the Inter-territorial Council. Nevertheless, it has been accused of hiding behind this pact in order to excuse the lack of information regarding waiting times.

The Health Ministry only publishes the total number of patients waiting for an operation in the whole of Spain and according it the latest official figures published in June 2007 there were 364,901 patients who had been waiting an average of 70 days for an operation.

Recently there has been concern over the number of regions which appear to have attempted to cover up their figures. In fact the public prosecutor is at present investigating the University Hospital Virgen de las Nieves in Granada for suspected manipulation of its figures on waiting lists.

There is currently no official organization responsible for overseeing these figures. At present the government just collates them and takes the information as correct and accurate. However, as El Pais suggests, it appears that an overhaul of this system is long overdue.