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Care backlog: Labour calls for NHS rescue plan by winter

by Jess Hacker
1 September 2021

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Labour has called for an NHS rescue plan to ensure staff are able to deal with the anticipated winter pressures, after finding patients are routinely waiting over 18 weeks for treatment.

In its analysis of the latest monthly performance statistics for NHS England, the party found that as many as 83 hospitals are breaching the 18-week maximum waiting time set out in the NHS constitution.

It noted the number of people waiting more than 18 weeks for Trauma and Orthopaedic surgery is now close to a quarter of a million people, while 57,488 people have been waiting more than a year.

For paediatric services, more than 13,000 children have been waiting longer than 52 weeks to access treatment.

Jonathan Ashworth, shadow Health Secretary, called for an NHS recovery plan to be put in place ahead of winter to ensure the NHS has the staff and modern equipment to deliver the cancer care, surgery and mental health care patients deserve.

He also called for a quarterly plan from ministers reporting action taken to tackle the backlog, and for the Government to introduce measures to strengthen the NHS constitution and guarantee timely treatment.

‘Increasing numbers are forced to take out loans to go private while others have no option but to suffer ongoing agony and discomfort for months,’ Mr Ashworth said.

‘Ultimately patients are paying the price for Tory failure to support the NHS and staff over the past decade – leaving the service understaffed, with beds cut and lacking the diagnostic equipment needed.’

When the numbers were first published, Management in Practice reported that the backlog for care had grown to 5.5 million people, up from 5.3 million patients the month before.

Situation ‘spiralling’ for NHS

Commenting on Labour’s analysis, BMA deputy chair Dr David Wrigley said staff have been working to treat patients as quickly as possible but that strains associated with the pandemic has made the challenge feel ‘insurmountable’.

‘NHS staff have and continue to work tirelessly to treat patients but managing the current level of demand without adequate resourcing has taken a great toll on the mental health of many who have been pushed to the brink of burnout,’ he said.

The Government must confront the ‘spiralling situation’, he said, adding that a failure to do so will ‘jeopardise the care of millions of patients’.

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, similarly warned that the NHS needs to be ‘resourced properly’, while crucial funding needed for the second half of this financial year must be addressed in the upcoming autumn spending review.

This comes after new modelling by the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that concerns that the NHS waiting list could reach and exceed 13 million people are ‘well within the realms of possibility’.