You are currently viewing Why health waiting lists are not reliable: this is how the Autonomous Communities make up the data

In the second half of 2021, Spain experienced two waves of coronavirus: the fifth (known as the wave young, as it spread at the end-of-year parties) and the sixth, which sprouted especially at Christmas. Despite being months of maximum saturation of the health system, the vast majority of regional governments reported a reduction in the average time of their surgical waiting lists.

The data is there and has been celebrated. However, on the whole, the list of patients waiting for an operation is at an all-time high. These are contradictory figures that are explained, in part, because it takes less time to call to operate, but there are more people waiting in line…

Health sources also warn that the waiting lists are “made up” and that there are no “miracles” without an increase in staff.

EL ESPAÑOL has contacted various unions in the sector to find out how it is possible that in regions such as Castilla la Mancha the average time to be operated has dropped from 189 days to 113 in just six months. It is the most striking fact, but not the only one.

If the data provided by the Ministry of Health is observed, it is verified that in that same period the waiting list in Cantabria rose 20 days and in Aragon 17. “Neither the data is so good, nor was it so bad before,” they point out.

“There are many ways to modify a waiting list,” say professionals. One of the most common is not to include the entire waiting process for surgery, but the days from the moment it is confirmed. officially.

Archive image of a Spanish health waiting room.


In other words, if a patient signs that they accept an operation, they make an appointment with the anesthetist and, after this visit, he is summoned to go to the operating room, the date only counts from his visit to the anesthesiologist. “What many do is not count as waiting time for the operating room the time that passes between the first meeting and the anesthetist,” the sources say. By some estimates, this can cut the waiting time per operation in half.

more tricks

Another example is the calls NPT (lists of transient inoperable patients). These are patients who are on the waiting list for an intervention (for example, cataracts) but, due to a complication of another disease, cannot be operated on at that time. Thus, if that patient who is waiting for a cataract intervention breaks his hip, she will no longer appear on the ophthalmology list, although she is still pending surgery.

In addition, the unions point out that another practice used by hospital management is to reset the list. This is done by requiring a new diagnostic test days before reaching the six-month wait. All this in order to start counting “from scratch”.

The regional health concerts also play a role in this “makeup” work. many health services they offer the patient to be intervened in the concerted or private health. If the patient says yes, solved, but if he prefers to continue in public health, they lower “the counter” because his case re-enters the system and counts from zero.

Patients are the most vulnerable part of this system. In many cases, if a patient does not answer the call at the time it is made from the health center to carry out a diagnostic test or any other matter related to their diseaseyou are removed from the list and returned to the starting box: zero days.

The UGT union has repeatedly denounced malpractice in the INGESA (Ministry of Health) when coordinating the health of Ceuta and Melilla. In 2018 they accused the Ministry of not counting patients who wait for their first appointment with the specialist prior to the operation.

This type of praxis contravenes the rules that the different governments of Spain have tried to put in place so that waiting lists are treated in a “homogeneous” way.

In 2003 a Royal Decree was issued to establish unique criteria in which it was stipulated that patients awaiting first outpatient consultation, first diagnostic/therapeutic test or surgical intervention should be included in the registry. For this reason, the UGT took INGESA to court.


But not only in operating rooms can make up the data. In fact, the doctors assure that it is “easier” to reduce the waiting time of the outpatient consultations.

A practical example denounced by Andalusian and Castilian-Leonese doctors is that of the colonoscopies. The waiting time for tests from the outpatient clinic (an appointment that the GP refers to the specialist) is very high, but to make up the data, it is combined with the time it takes to perform the same test on patients who are hospitalized or who are in hospital. emergency, test done immediately.

“Doing accounts, the average waiting time for a colonoscopy prescribed by the Primary doctor is 60 days, but if they do it to you by going to the emergency room, it is 0. The average waiting time is 30 days,” explains a doctor in exercise that is affiliated with CSIF.

Since the medical, nursing and class unions (CCOO, CSIF and UGT) They have been denouncing these practices for years. So do political parties. From the opposition they accuse their adversary in the Government of making up the average time and, when they are on the opposite side of the board, they deny the greater.

The most notorious case has occurred these days in Castilla la Mancha. The Popular Party has accused the Government of Emiliano García-Page of reducing the waiting list in an “incredible” way and has denounced manipulation.

They say this after learning that, according to official data, the province of Toledo It has gone from 3,423 to 17 people on the surgical waiting list between December 2020 and December 2020. 2021; Guadalajara from 1879 to 12; Real city from 649 to 0; Basin from 10 to 0; and Albacete from 1747 to 244.

In the end, health professionals claim a “truthful” treatment of waiting lists, since they consider that, after the patients, they are the great losers of makeup. “If autonomy does not expand templates and lower their times, the need for more personnel is not made visible,” they insist from CCOO.

For its part, the Nursing Union, SATSE, speaks of this system as a “perverse” framework and a “shameful practice” that has been carried out for years “with the complicity of some hospital officials.”


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