Call for waiting list plan

By Douglas Shepherd

Surgeons are pressing for a five-year plan to clear a growing NHS patient backlog fuelled by the pensions tax crisis.

As more senior doctors cut their hours due to punitive tax charges on their pensions savings, NHS performance data showed a record 4.4m patients were awaiting consultant-led hospital treatment in June. 

The renewed call for action came from the Royal College of Surgeons of England (RCS) after figures showed only 86.3% of patients who were waiting to start planned, consultant-led hospital treatment were seen within 18 weeks – short of the Government’s target of 92%.

More than 600,000 patients were affected – the highest number for over a decade. 

Surgeons expressed concern earlier this year when this legal target was quietly dropped from NHS England and NHS Improvement’s accountability framework, which includes the Government’s mandate to NHS England for 2019-20. 

The RCS says that while it supports NHS England’s plans to pilot new targets for access to care, it is premature to remove the 18-week target from the mandate when a replacement has not been tested or consulted on widely.

NHS performance statistics revealed 36,971 patients were waiting more than nine months (39 weeks) to start treatment in June 2019, and a further 233,479 waiting longer than six months (26 weeks). 

Prof Derek Alderson

The RCS is also concerned about 19,969 operations being cancelled at the last minute in April to June 2019. 

RCS president Prof Derek Alderson said: ‘The number of patients languishing on waiting lists remains at an utterly unacceptable level.’ 

He said the Government had made welcome moves to cut waiting times by directing more money to hospital infrastructure projects and trying to resolve the pensions issue that had been exacerbating waiting times, but there was ‘still a big job ahead’. 

Hospitals needed a clear plan for reducing waiting lists and at least 3,000 more beds, along with the staff and resources to run them, Prof Alderson added.