Call for more surgical hubs to tackle massive waiting lists

More surgical hubs to tackle NHS waiting lists are being called for by the Royal College of Surgeons of England following a report warning the backlog will rise to over eight million by next summer. 

College president Mr Tim Mitchell said the ‘sobering analysis’ from the Health Foundation highlights that the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s pledge to cut waiting lists is highly unlikely to be achieved. 

‘To tackle waiting lists in a meaningful and sustainable way, we need transformative solutions. Continuing to invest in surgical hubs across the country, focusing on the areas with the longest waits, would allow surgeons to operate more efficiently,’ he said. 

‘Hubs protect planned surgery from stoppages during busy periods when resources are diverted to emergency pressures.’

Mr Mitchell blamed a ballooning of waiting lists over the past decade on underinvestment and workforce shortages. The Covid-19 pandemic had exacerbated these pressures and while industrial action had contributed to delays, the roots of the crisis preceded the strikes.

Now it was crucial to also improve staff morale and retention – and recruiting new staff was only half of the solution. 

‘Providing a supportive, well-resourced working environment is vital to reducing burnout. Otherwise, the NHS risks being caught in a revolving door, as we continuously lose the very staff we are trying to hire. By supporting staff and providing the resources they need to do their jobs, we can begin to reduce waiting times,’ Mr Mitchell said.

Responding to NHSE monthly performance figures, David Furness of the Independent Healthcare Providers Network (IHPN) said a rise in the number of people waiting 65 weeks was troubling.

‘To have nearly 110,000 people waiting 65 weeks – a rise of nearly 13,000 in a month – particularly given the focus there has been on this group of very long waiters – is especially concerning. 

‘We need urgently to be pulling on every lever at our disposal, including deploying the capacity which exists within the independent sector to treat NHS patients more quickly.’