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Government must not ‘burden’ practices with NHS backlog plan

by Jess Hacker
9 February 2022

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The Government’s NHS backlog recovery plan cannot inadvertently burden general practice, health leaders have warned.

Presented to the Commons yesterday (8 February), the scheme sets out a number of targets intended to help clear elective care’s 6 million-strong waiting list.

This includes the hope to eliminate year-long and two-year waits by March 2025 and July 2022 respectively.

But the College warned that pressures are not confined solely to hospitals.

It reminded the Government and NHS England that while patients wait for their specialist care, they remain under the care of their GP.

The plan set out targets to:

  • Clear two-year waits by July this year
  • Remove all waits of longer than 18 months by April next year
  • Return the number of people waiting more than 62 days from an urgent referral to pre-pandemic levels by March 2023.

Professor Martin Marshall, RCGP chair, urged the DHSC and NHSE to keep general practice ‘central to any discussions and decision-making’ on NHS reform.

‘It’s crucial that any plans to alleviate the backlog in hospitals do not inadvertently push a bigger burden onto general practice, which is already beset by a huge workload and workforce crisis,’ he said.

Backlog extends beyond hospitals

Similarly, the BMA urged the Government not to ignore the non-surgical backlog, caused by 29.14 million fewer outpatient appointments during the pandemic.

‘Currently cancer referrals and treatment are now at an all-time high, and millions with long-term conditions are struggling to get the support and care that they need,’ Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said.

‘It is equally important that GPs and primary care teams are provided with the necessary resources to support this unmet need in the community.’

The King’s Fund, a health care thinktank, also noted that the pressure on general practice is leaving many people ‘struggling to get an appointment’, and ‘must not be overlooked by a national focus on hospital waiting lists’.

Meanwhile, the health secretary’s plan faced criticism for failing to take the opportunity to introduce a long-term workforce plan to assister the recovery.

Tim Gardner, senior policy fellow at the Health Foundation, said: ‘The main factor limiting progress on addressing the elective backlog and the wider recovery is longstanding staff shortages. Failing to come forward with a long-term workforce plan will undermine efforts to bring down waiting lists and put the NHS’s recovery at risk.’

It comes after Sajid Javid revealed the plan has factored in around two years of increasing waiting times, with the NHS not expecting lists to begin falling until March 2022.

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