Tackling hospital waiting times: the impact of past and current policies in the Netherlands

Health Policy. 2013 Nov;113(1-2):127-33. doi: 10.1016/j.healthpol.2013.05.003. Epub 2013 Jun 6.


This paper reviews the impact of health policies on hospital waiting times in the Netherlands over the last two decades. During the 1990s hospital waiting times increased as a result of the introduction of fixed budgets and capacity constraints for specialists, in addition to the fixed global hospital budgets that were already in place since the 1980s. To tackle these increased waiting times over the years 2000-2011 several policies were implemented, including a change from fixed budgets to activity-based funding--for both hospitals and specialists--and increased competition among hospitals. All together these measures resulted in a strong reduction of waiting times. In 2011 mean expected waiting times for almost all surgical procedures varied from 2 to 6 weeks, well below the broadly accepted specified maximum waiting times. Hence, in the Netherlands hospital waiting times are currently not an important policy concern. Since the waiting time reduction was achieved at the expense of rapidly growing hospital costs, these have become now the primary policy concern. This has triggered the introduction of new powerful supply-side constraints in 2012, which may cause waiting times to increase for the coming years.

Keywords: Hospital care; Hospital payment; Waiting times.

MeSH terms

  • Budgets
  • Economic Competition
  • Economics, Hospital*
  • Health Policy*
  • Hospital Administration*
  • Humans
  • Netherlands
  • Organizational Policy
  • Waiting Lists*