Fewer operations lead to growing NHS waiting list

  • Date: 13 October 2022

THE waiting list for hospital treatment in England has reached a new record of seven million and analysis suggests this is due to fewer operations being carried out rather than a post-pandemic surge in demand.

NHS England referral to treatment (RTT) statistics for August 2022 revealed that the number of RTT patients waiting to start treatment was 7.0 million, with 387,257 patients waiting more than one year and 2,646 patients waiting more than two years.

This is an improvement on the 23,778 patients waiting two years in January 2022, but the total waiting list continues to rise month on month.

New analysis by BBC Health suggests that the rise is being driven by the inability of hospitals to get back to full strength rather than a surge in demand.

Data from NHS England shows that 12 per cent fewer inpatient treatments are being carried out than before the pandemic but the number of new referrals for treatment has not risen above the pre-pandemic average.

Mr Tim Mitchell, Vice President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, has commented on the latest NHS England statistics: “Despite the very great efforts of NHS staff, the health service still hasn’t managed to return to pre-pandemic activity levels. The system was already running hot before the advent of Covid. The NHS is now under pressure from all sides.

“In surgery, we find operations can’t go ahead because there is a shortage of anaesthetic and nursing staff, there aren’t enough theatres, or there aren’t hospital beds for our patients to go afterwards. There are pressures at both the front and back door. Huge numbers of patients come in through A&E and end up in beds earmarked for planned operations.

“Tackling the backlog requires a multi-pronged approach. First and foremost, we’d like to see Government speed up the programme to build surgical hubs, to create one in every area. This protects surgery from emergency pressures and ensures as many operations as possible can go ahead. There also needs to be a plan for addressing gaps in the workforce, particularly in anaesthetics and theatre nursing.”

Professor Philip Banfield, BMA council chair, said: “This is primarily a workforce crisis. We need more staff in health and social care. Aside from what doctors have long been telling the BMA, media analysis today has shown that operating theatres are not being used precisely because there aren’t enough staff or beds. Medical vacancies are the highest they’ve ever been across the NHS, and we have the equivalent of 1,850 fewer fully-qualified, full-time GPs than we did in 2015.”

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