NHS Waiting Lists Reach Unprecedented Peak, Surpassing Previous Records, Despite Rishi Sunak’s Eight-Month Pledge to Reduce Them

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Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak (PA Wire)
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NHS waitlists have surged to an unprecedented peak, defying Rishi Sunak’s commitment to their reduction.

As of the conclusion of June, approximately 7.6 million individuals were in line to commence hospital treatments, a rise from 7.5 million in May, according to NHS England.

This statistic represents the greatest tally since the inception of comparable records back in August 2007.

The prime minister made cutting waiting lists one of his priorities for 2023, pledging in January that “lists will fall and people will get the care they need more quickly”.

Contrary to expectations of reduced waiting times, waiting lists continue to expand, reaching an unprecedented magnitude as indicated by the most recent data.

In the past week, Mr. Sunak attributed his inability to narrow the gap to doctors’ industrial actions. Junior doctors are preparing for their upcoming four-day strike, set to commence on Friday and conclude on Tuesday morning, further exacerbating the situation.

In recent years, doctors have experienced a decline in their actual earnings and are advocating for the restoration of their salaries. This request is aimed at addressing a pressing recruitment and retention dilemma within the healthcare sector. However, the government contends that fulfilling this demand is financially unsustainable.

Labour has criticized the government for resorting to “excuses” by placing blame on doctors.

Prominent health think-tanks, such as the King’s Fund and Health Foundation, alongside organizations like NHS Providers, have consistently emphasized that the healthcare system fundamentally requires increased funding to facilitate improvements.

The Government and NHS England have established a goal to eradicate all wait times exceeding one year by March 2025.

Measured within this more specific framework, there has been marginal advancement. The count of individuals waiting over 52 weeks for treatment decreased from 385,022 in late May to 383,083 by the end of June.

However, given the present pace of progress, it is unlikely that this target will be met.

An even narrower objective, involving the elimination of waits exceeding 18 months for NHS treatment, was not achieved in April of this year. In June 2023, a total of 7,177 individuals were awaiting treatment beyond the 18-month threshold, a reduction from 11,446 at the close of May.

During the previous week, Health Minister Maria Caulfield stated that the government anticipated an increase in waiting times before witnessing a decrease, indicating that the numbers would reach their peak in the upcoming months. She conveyed this on LBC radio.

The government has outlined its intention to tap into available capacity within the private sector in an effort to reduce waiting lists. This involves incorporating eight new diagnostic sectors managed by private entities.

Ministers have also indicated adjustments to regulations to streamline the process of the NHS procuring private services, involving modifications to the “provider selection regime.”

Dr. Rosena Allin-Khan, a Labour shadow health minister, asserted that the government lacked a comprehensive strategy to reverse the current situation.

“One in eight people are now waiting for NHS treatment, more than ever before. Patients are waiting in pain and discomfort for months or even years,” she said.

Rishi Sunak has no plan to turn this around, he only offers excuses. He blames hard-working doctors and nurses, yet he hasn’t lifted a finger to stop the strikes.

“The last Labour government delivered the shortest waiting lists and highest patient satisfaction in history. The next Labour government will provide the staff and reform the NHS needs, so it is there for us when we need it once again.”

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