[ What is happening to NHS waiting lists and how has it been affected by covid? ]

16th February 2022

Following on from last week’s article, we thought we’d go into more detail about waiting lists. I’m sure many of us have been affected by how long the waiting lists are due to covid, I know I have! Thankfully the NHS have created a guide to the waiting times in England, (NHS, Guide to NHS waiting times in England) your waiting time will start from when you get referred whether it be through the hospital, doctors, or when you book your first appointment through the NHS e-Referral Service. during this time period you could: have scans, tests or other procedures, have medicine/therapy or be referred to another consultant/department. Your waiting time could end if it’s decided it’s not necessary, when your appointment starts or you don’t want to be treated. Maximum waiting times for non-urgent referrals are 18 weeks from when they are booked or the hospital receives your referral letter. In other cases the maximum waiting time for urgent care referrals such as suspected cancer is 2 weeks. These figures have changed due to COVID, but how much have they changed?
The waiting lists for NHS hospital treatments are said to take years to clear. With 6 million people on waiting lists, which is an incredible 1 in 9 of our population, demand is expected to rise now that COVID pressure is easing. Health secretary Sajid Javid has set out plans to reduce cancer treatment waiting times, which includes a 28-day target for cancer diagnosis by March 2024. This was due to be introduced last year but was delayed due to the pandemic. Amanda Pritchard, NHS England chief executive, has stated that backlog will take time and unfortunately won’t happen overnight. (Chadwick Lawrence, Waiting lists for NHS hospital treatment will take years to clear) 6.1 Million people were waiting to start treatment at the end of December. This is the highest number since records began in August 2007, this is according to the NHS England data. The targets to tackle the backlog of NHS treatments are “very stretching” and may not be enough to prevent waiting lists from growing. (GB NEWS)
The biggest challenge with tackling the backlog is the NHS lack of staff (which we have spoken about in previous articles; North Devon staff shortages have put patients at Risk and What links poor staffing in the care sector to lower ambulance numbers and deaths from overcrowding in A&E?) This needs to be fixed. The shortage of 93,000 needs to change, both through recruitment and through making more effective use of existing staff.
But what’s happening? NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard and Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid have announced dozens more community diagnostic centres as part of the new elective care recovery plan. The ‘delivery plan for tackling the COVID-19 backlog of elective care’ should give patients greater control over their own health and provide them care if they are waiting too long for treatment. Teams of specialists will be assigned to assist patients in preparing for surgery, and groups of clinicians and teams will have immediate access to test results, allowing them to provide patients with quicker clinical guidance. In addition, the NHS has stated that it will enhance capacity to deliver more treatments and scans in each of the next three years, bringing the total number of tests and inspections to roughly nine million by 2025. Patients will be offered about 17 million more diagnostic tests over a three-year period, representing a quarter increase in capacity compared to the three years prior to the pandemic. (NHS publishes electives recovery plan to boost capacity and give power to patients, NHS)

At SQ, we are doing our part to reduce waiting lists, by working with hospitals to improve their people flow and increase their capacity. Increased capacity means there will be more appointments available to clear the backlog at a faster rate.

Meg Wheller
Media Marketer, Spatial Quotient