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Patients are given an urgency category when they are placed on a waiting list based on the relative severity of their condition, the likelihood of deterioration, the impact of the condition on their quality of life and/or the level of pain or discomfort they are experiencing.

Exceeding the recommended timeframes increases the likelihood of ongoing illness or injury, deterioration in their condition and poorer health outcomes. The number of patients who have exceeded their clinically recommended timeframes are often recorded by departments of health as a measure of hospital performance.