Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had said in January that it was one of his key policy priorities for this year that waiting lists reduce and people will get the care they need more quickly. However, research suggests that NHS waiting lists are unlikely to fall in 2023, and the backlog is not likely to reduce until mid-2024.
It has been found that because of the Covid-19 pressures, the NHS has not been able to significantly increase the number of people it is treating from its waiting lists every month. This is according to an analysis from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS). The Institute however indicated that the NHS had made progress in the past month.
Max Warner, who is an IFS economist and one of the writers of the report said that the NHs has made progress to lower the number of patients waiting a very long time for treatment. However, efforts made to increase the number of people treated overall have not been very successful.
He also said that for the NHS to turn things around to achieve its aim of increasing elective activity to 30% above the levels seen before the pandemic, it has to make a significant double-digit growth in the number of treatments carried out over the next two years.
He said: “That would be more than three times the growth rate in the five years prior to Covid, and looks increasingly unreachable. As a result, it is likely that the waiting list will flatline rather than fall over the coming year.”
The NHS Providers’ chief executive, Julian Hartley, has also called for the UK government to introduce a fully funded plan for workers and also to discuss with unions about pay because the strikes were disrupting services in no small way. According to him, it was undermining the great progress done to tackle backlogs.
He applauded the remarkable progress trust leaders and staff had made even in the challenging conditions.
The IFS researchers also praised the plan put in place by the NHS and noted the meaningful progress the health service had made so far to reduce the backlogs. They also said that the NHS was on track to completely remove from its lists people who had waited 18 months or more by April.
However, they pointed out that the NHS hasn’t done enough to increase elective care to about 30% above pre-pandemic levels by 2024-25. The warned the target is challenging given that it compared with the 2.9% average growth annually in the five years before the pandemic. Additionally, the plan is hindered by the fact that the NHS treated 5% fewer patients from the waiting list in the 10 months since the plan was published than over the same period in 2019.
The IFS researchers are of the opinion that with the fact the population is increasing, people getting old and more people falling sick in addition to continued pressure on the health workforce, it is unlikely that the proposed 10.3% annual growth will be attained.
They concluded that the waiting list will flatline over 2023, and only begin to fall substantially from mid-2024 if the NHS can manage to increase treatment volumes in significant numbers.
However, NHS England announced that it would provide about 80,000 additional surgeries and outpatient appointments at 37 new surgical hubs, 10 expanded hubs and 81 new theatres. This is part of their “biggest and most ambitious catch-up plan in NHS history”. NHS England also announced that 584 new beds just for elective care and almost 90 more critical care beds will be provided across the country.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said that the NHS has practically cleared waits of over two years for treatment and has reduced 18 month waits by over half in a year. The spokesperson also added that an extra funding of £14.1bn has been pledged over the next two years.
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