Lessons learned from other Health Systems (UK) — Backlog Management Post Pandemic & Transparency on Waiting Lists

This is a republication of the article below, with the title above, by the Editor of the Blog

Hospital waiting list in England exceeds 6mn for first time (UK)

Financial Times
February 11, 2022

The number of people in England waiting for NHS care has risen to more than 6mn, a new record, according to official data released two days after health leaders and the government admitted queues for treatment would continue to lengthen for another two years.

At the end of December 2021, about 36 per cent of patients were waiting more than 18 weeks to start hospital treatment, compared with a target of 8 per cent. 

Of the 6.1mn patients in the treatment queue at the end of December, more than 310,000 had been waiting more than a year, the NHS England figures released on Thursday showed.

A long-awaited plan to clear the backlog released by the government and NHS England on Tuesday suggested waiting lists would not start to shrink until March 2024 despite an increase in national insurance contributions from April designed to raise another £30bn for the health service.

It also made clear one-year waits would not be abolished until March 2025, a year later than ministers had originally hoped, according to health insiders. 

Meanwhile, a record 20,065 people were waiting more than two years for treatment in December. NHS leaders promised on Tuesday that from July no one would wait as long.

Professor Stephen Powis, NHS England national medical director, said that while the health service continued to face “seasonal pressures . . . we are now beginning to see the full picture of the Omicron winter on the NHS”. 

Despite “sky-high staff absences”, staff had continued to make inroads on the backlog and delivered 120,000 more tests and checks in December compared with the same time last year, he added.

However, Fiona Myint, a consultant vascular surgeon and vice-president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said the latest figures “show just how stretching the government’s targets are”.

Having worked round the clock in December to deliver the Covid-19 booster programme, NHS staff were now able to carry out more operations, Myint said. 

But the NHS was also caring for more than 13,500 patients in hospitals with Covid, as well as having staff off sick with the virus and coping with about 100,000 staff vacancies. “We are not out of the woods yet. Eliminating two-year waits remains a big challenge,” she added.

The data show the longest waits were for trauma and orthopaedic treatment — such as hip and knee replacements — followed by general surgery, such as gallbladder removals, and hernia operations and ear, nose and throat treatment.

Wes Streeting, shadow health secretary, said the last Labour government reduced average waiting times from 18 months to 18 weeks. “The next Labour government will secure the future of our NHS, providing the staff it needs to treat patients on time,” he added.

The recovery plan pointed to a bigger role for the private sector in speeding up treatment and, responding to the latest figures, David Hare, chief executive of the Independent Healthcare Providers Network, said local areas now needed to “turbo-charge” their use of the sector.

“Independent sector capacity available to the NHS is still going unused in many parts of the country and this needs to be urgently remedied if access to NHS care is to be improved”, he added.

Originally published at https://www.ft.com on February 10, 2022.

Names mentioned

Professor Stephen Powis, NHS England national medical director

However, Fiona Myint, a consultant vascular surgeon and vice-president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England

Wes Streeting, shadow health secretary

David Hare, chief executive of the Independent Healthcare Providers Network,

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