NHS waiting lists could double to 12 million by 2025 despite billions more in taxpayers’ cash being pumped into our hospital wards, a damning report has concluded.
The National Audit Office (NAO) said millions of patients had missed out on vital care during the pandemic – and could now return to the health service to increase the backlog.
The number currently waiting for NHS care already stands at a record 5.83 million. But the NAO warned this could double to 12 million in a little over three years.
Its report also warned the health service was falling dramatically short on all key targets – including cancer care – with the ‘catastrophic’ consequences costing lives.
A damning report suggested Boris Johnson’s controversial new ‘health and social care levy’ would be inadequate to prevent hospital waiting lists continuing to soar
And it suggested Boris Johnson’s controversial new ‘health and social care levy’ would be inadequate to prevent hospital waiting lists continuing to soar. The report is likely to add to fears the NHS will swallow up almost all of the money from the new levy in the coming years, leaving little for the collapsing social care sector.
Today’s study by the NAO – an independent watchdog that scrutinises public spending for Parliament – provides the most in-depth assessment to date of the horrifying legacy of the pandemic on non-Covid care.
Even under its best case scenario, the NAO said the number of people in England waiting for routine care – currently at a record 5.8 million – will increase to 7 million in 2025.
But if the NHS were to perform activity at pre-pandemic levels, this would actually reach 12 million by 2025 – meaning one fifth of the population was caught in the backlog.
Experts warned if the Omicron variant leads to more disruption and lockdowns this winter there will be an ‘even bigger mountain to climb’. The report said up to 9.1 million patients missed out on referrals for elective care, saying ‘millions have avoided seeking or been unable to obtain healthcare during the pandemic’.
NHS waiting lists could double to 12 million by 2025 despite billions more in taxpayers’ cash being pumped into our hospital wards, the report has concluded
Many were put off seeking help due to the Government’s ‘stay at home message’, while others had vital operations and appointments cancelled as hospitals dealt with an influx of Covid-19 patients.
The NAO said it had been ‘impossible’ for the NHS to maintain cancer care throughout the crisis and treatment including chemotherapy ‘dropped significantly’. There were between 240,000 and 740,000 ‘missing’ urgent GP referrals for suspected cancer from March 2020 to September 2021. And between 35,000 and 60,000 fewer people started treatment for cancer than would have been expected during this time frame.
The authors of the report said it is uncertain how many ‘missing’ cases will return to the NHS over the coming months.
But if 50 per cent seek treatment, and activity continues to grow in line with pre-pandemic plans, the waiting list would reach 12 million by March 2025.
If the NHS meets the Government’s target of increasing activity by 10 per cent more than planned, the waiting list would stand at 7 million in 2025.
Many were put off seeking help due to the Government’s ‘stay at home message’, while others had vital operations and appointments cancelled as hospitals dealt with an influx of Covid-19 patients
The Government’s new 1.25 per cent hike in national insurance, coming into force in April, will raise an extra £36billion over three years for the NHS and social care.
Of this, £8billion will go specifically to addressing the backlog.
However, the NAO said it was uncertain whether this funding would be enough to reduce waiting times and address long-term problems in the health service.
It noted ‘waiting time performance had been gradually deteriorating’ since 2013 and ‘the pandemic heaped yet more pressure on a care system that was already creaking under the strain’.
NHS England data shows that in February 2020, just 83 per cent of patients were seen within the 18-week standard. By last month, this had fallen to 66 per cent.
The report said it will be impossible to clear the waiting list unless workforce shortages – of around 100,000 doctors, nurses and other NHS staff – are addressed. It also warned ‘the ongoing pandemic may continue to affect bed and staff availability in unexpected ways and at short notice’.
The NAO report said if the backlog is to be cleared, social care needs support so elderly patients do not end up trapped in hospital.
Tim Mitchell, vice president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said the projection that waiting lists could hit 12 million was ‘very worrying’ but ‘will not come as a surprise’.
He called for the creation of ‘surgical hubs’ to tackle the backlog, adding: ‘Frustrated patients who have been left waiting in pain for hip, knee, heart and other vital operations, want to know there is a plan to reduce waiting times.’
A spokesman for NHS England said: ‘NHS staff are now pulling out all the stops to recover elective activity levels, so anyone who is concerned about their health should come forward so the NHS can help you.’