NHS waiting list surges despite Sunak’s pledge to cut backlog

‘The Prime Minister’s key pledge of reducing the size of the waiting list by March 2024 is looking more and more in doubt.’

NHS worker conditions

The number of people stuck on NHS waiting lists has reached a record high, despite promises from ministers to eliminate lengthy backlogs.  

Figures released on October 12, show that as of the end of August there were 8,998 people waiting for treatment for over 18 months, a sharp increase from 7,289 in July. Overall waiting list figures have reached a record high, with 7.75m people waiting for treatment at the end of August, up from 7.68m in July, marking the highest figure since records began in 2007.

The government had promised that all patients who had been waiting for 18 months for an operation in hospital would be treated by April. The following month, the health secretary Steve Barclay admitted that the government had not met its target. Failure to eliminate 18-month backlogs is embarrassing for Sunak, who made ‘cut waiting lists’ one of this five key promises. In January, the Prime Minister had said that “lists will fall, and people will get the care they need more quickly.”

Thea Stein, chief executive of the Nuttfield Trust, referred to the lack of progress as “alarming as we head into winter.”

“With another 65,000 people added to the waiting list in August and the average waiting times for patients still growing, we are not seeing the turnaround in fortunes that the government and patients would hope to see,” said Stein.

Siva Anandaciva, the chief analyst at the King’s Fund health charity, shared the same concerns.

“Today’s statistics show the NHS is running red hot as it enters the busy winter period. Despite the Prime Minister’s commitment to cut waiting lists, more and more people are now queueing for routine hospital care,” he said.

Pointing to A&E units, cancer, and mental health care services also under immense pressure, Anandaciva continued that “there are few areas of patient care that are unscathed by workforce shortages and rising demand.”

Professor Peter Friend, vice president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said that increased demand, record staff vacancies and industrial action are all continuing to “hold back recovery efforts.”

“And that is before winter pressures hit. The Prime Minister’s key pledge of reducing the size of the waiting list by March 2024 is looking more and more in doubt.”

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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