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Waiting list for elective care could top 8 million by next summer

A new analysis by the Health Foundation has found that if current trends and industrial action continues, the waiting list for elective care could rise to 8.18 million by next summer.

A new analysis by the Health Foundation has found that if current trends and industrial action continues, the waiting list for elective care could rise to 8.18 million by next summer.

If industrial action does not continue, the waiting list is still predicted to reach 8 million by August 2024. Health bosses say this highlights that doctors “are not the ones to blame for the shameful backlog in NHS elective care.”

Root cause of waiting list is “a decade of under-investment in the NHS”

Indeed, the analysis shows that industrial action by consultants and junior doctors has so far lengthened the waiting list by around 210,000, just 3% of the overall size of the list.

However, it also highlights that strikes are likely to have indirect impacts by squeezing NHS finances and diverting management attention away from productivity improvement.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, says the Confederation has been told by NHS leaders that industrial action is “occupying a lot of their staff time when it comes to cancelling and then rebooking appointment.”

“The strikes are also harming efforts to improve efficiency and productivity, as well as costing significant amounts of money that wasn’t planned for. Unless this money is reimbursed, then NHS organisations will face impossible choices on where to cut back,” he added.

However, the root cause of the delays is “a decade of under-investment in the NHS,” Mr Taylor says, and he says the government must now ensure that NHS finances do not continue to deteriorate as ministers seek to “plug the costs of ongoing industrial action”.

Targets laid out in the elective care recovery plan will not be met

The analysis, which features an interactive ‘waiting list calculator’, also includes illustrative better and worse case scenarios.

In the better case scenario, the number of completed treatment would grow by 10.4% per year, a third faster than the current rate.

However, the expectation set out in the elective care recovery plan would not be met under this scenario, or any of the other scenarios.

This is because while monthly referrals for treatment are now back to pre-pandemic levels, and growing at a faster rate, the number of treatments does not yet exceed the number of referrals.

Health leaders are now warning that if the NHS experiences a new wave of Covid or a bad winter flu season, or if the government makes cutbacks to hospital care as a result of financial pressures, efforts to curb the growing waiting list will be disrupted.

Prof Phil Banfield, BMA chair of council, says worse case scenarios are not inevitable, and history shows that “with proper investment in the workforce we can eliminate the backlog.”

Prof Banfield says the Prime Minister and Chancellor must now “seize the moment to demonstrate they are planning and investing for the long-term future of the UK.”

“I appeal directly to them to unblock the obstacles that stop us getting on with treating patients. It is up to them,” he said.

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