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How we're tackling the NHS backlog

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Updated 29 November

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said:

“Cutting waiting lists is one of the government’s top five priorities. Our Elective Recovery Plan sets out a series of targets, starting with those who have been waiting the longest.

"We are making progress with two year waits already virtually eliminated, and 18-month waits falling by more than 90% from their September 2021 peak, despite pressures from industrial action.

“To improve access to lifesaving tests and checks and cut down on unnecessary hospital trips, we have opened 135 community diagnostic centres and are track to open 160 by March 2024 – a full year ahead of schedule.”

What are the key stats?

  • The number of patients waiting 18 months has reduced to 10,201 since the peak of 124,911 in September 2021.
  • Tens of thousands of those waiting the longest have received vital treatment, including knee and hip replacements.
  • Last year we met the first target to virtually eliminate two-year waits.
  • The next target in the plan is eliminating waits of over 65 weeks by March 2024.To help achieve this, the government is backing health and social care services with record funding, including up to £14.1 billion over the next two years.

How is the NHS going to ensure patients still on the list are treated as soon as possible?

  • The NHS is working incredibly hard to ensure those who have been waiting the longest receive treatment as soon as possible, and staff are going above and beyond to make this happen.
  • As part of the Elective Recovery Plan, the NHS is using innovative initiatives to treat more patients, including 95 surgical hubs, 135 community diagnostic centres, better ‘pre-hab’ to prepare patients ahead of surgery to cut recovery times and innovative technology such as surgical robots and safer X-ray scanners. This is supported by mutual aid – which involves transferring patients who are willing to travel to alternative providers with a shorter waiting time.
  • In November, we announced the government will meet its target to open 160 CDCs a year early. All 160 centres will be open by March 2024, a year ahead of the original March 2025 target - speeding up access to potentially lifesaving tests and checks.
  • They have already delivered over 5 million additional tests, checks and scans across the country.
  • The NHS is maximising the use of the independent sector and implementing additional measures such as weekend and evening working.
  • In August, the government’s Elective Recovery Taskforce set out a plan to maximise independent sector capacity to treat NHS patients more quickly. Chaired by Health Minister Will Quince and made up of academics and experts from the NHS and independent sector, the taskforce looked for ways to go further to bust the COVID-19 backlogs and reduce waiting times for patients.
  • In May, we announced that patients will be empowered to choose where they receive their NHS care under new plans to help cut waiting lists.
  • After speaking with their GP, patients will be able to view information for a minimum of 5 providers where possible, with information about waiting times, distance to travel and quality to help them make their choice.
  • From October 31, any patient who has been waiting longer than 40 weeks and does not have an appointment within the next eight weeks will be contacted by their hospital via letter, text, or email. Offers will be sent to up to 400,000 eligible patients who will then be able to submit their details including how far they are willing to travel.
  • This progress builds on the success of NHS staff in meeting the first elective recovery target, with waits of more than two years virtually eliminated by July last year.

What plans are in place to help patients who are coming forward for more treatment?

  • As with other health services around the world, backlogs have inevitably built up because patients were understandably deterred from coming forward for help during the COVID pandemic.
  • There are currently more than 7.7 million people on the waiting list for NHS care. We urge anyone who is worried about their health or who is experiencing concerning symptoms to come forward.
  • With only one in five patients on the waiting lists requiring a hospital admission – and most others waiting for scans or checks – we are expanding our diagnostic capacity including through the rollout of community diagnostic centres, which allow patients to receive tests close to home.

Will there be extra funding to support the recovery of services?

  • The government is spending over £8 billion over three years, from 2022 to 2025, to tackle the elective backlog.
  • In addition, the government has committed to a £5.9 billion investment in NHS capital over three years, to provide new beds, equipment and technology. This includes:
    • £2.3 billion to increase diagnostic activity and roll out up to 160 Community Diagnostic Centres
    • £2.1 billion to modernise digital technology on the frontline
    • £1.5 billion towards Elective Recovery by expanding capacity.
  • This overall funding plans to deliver 9 million more checks, scans and procedures over the next three years.
  • We are spending up to £7.5 billion over two years to support adult social care and help discharge patients from hospital. This historic funding boost will put the adult social care system on a stronger financial footing and help local authorities address waiting lists and workforce pressures in the sector.

Do you have the workforce to deliver this plan?

  • We are boosting the NHS workforce with record numbers of staff working in the NHS and we will soon publish a comprehensive workforce strategy to recruit and retain more staff.
  • Our historic Long Term Workforce Plan will retain and recruit hundreds of thousands more staff alongside harnessing technology to reform the way we work and save staff time.
  • Backed by over £2.4 billion, it sets out how the NHS will address existing vacancies and meet the challenges of a growing and aging population over the next 15 years and reforming the way we work.
  • In August 2023 there were over 6,800 (5.2%) more doctors and over 17,600 (5.6%) more nurses working in the NHS compared to last year.

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