Nurses and other health service staff have been praised by NHS leaders for “virtually eliminating” the longest-ever patient treatment waiting list backlog in England.
Significantly reducing the backlogs that had built up during Covid-19 by the end of July marked the passing of the first milestone in the NHS Elective Recovery Plan, which was published earlier this year.
“Our remarkable staff have shown that when we are given the tools and resources we need, the NHS delivers for our patients”
NHS England said today that a list of 22,500 patients awaiting treatment for two years at the start of the year has been reduced to just 2,777, “thanks to the tireless efforts of NHS staff”.
Of these, 1,579 remaining patients had chosen to wait longer in order to be treated locally and 1,030 were very complex cases that it would not be clinically safe to move a patient to another provider.
This leaves less than 200 waiting due to a lack of capacity. NHS England said staff were now “working hard to ensure the remaining 168 patients who have not yet been treated are seen as quickly as possible”.
In addition, a further 51,000 patients who would have breached the two-year waiting list by the end of July have also been treated, said the national body.
At the end of July, three NHS regions had no patients waiting two years or more for routine care, with three regions having reduced the numbers to single figures, said NHS England.
It noted that the recovery had been delivered despite higher levels of Covid-19, with hospitals treating more than 220,000 patients with the virus since the plan was published in February.
The government arms’-length body described attempting to reach the achievement as the “most ambitious catch-up plan in health service history”.
Chief executive of NHS England, Amanda Pritchard, said: “Thanks to the hard work and dedication of our staff, the NHS has delivered the first milestone in our NHS Recovery Plan.
“The next phase of our plan will focus on patients waiting longer than 18 months, building on the fantastic work already done,” she said.
“And while this is a significant challenge, our remarkable staff have shown that when we are given the tools and resources we need, the NHS delivers for our patients,” she added.
“NHS workforce shortages must be tackled and staff discouraged from leaving”
Danny Mortimer, deputy chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said the waiting list reduction was “an important milestone” for the NHS, whose teams have been working “exceptionally hard” to recover their services after the worst of the pandemic.
However, he added: “With the overall waiting list for elective care continuing to grow nationally, NHS staff know that this vital work has not yet finished.
“They will continue to do everything they can for their patients, in the face of profound challenge and while also tackling other challenges around mental health, community and primary care, which warrant equal attention.”
When the plan was first published, health unions said it needed to go further on addressing workforce shortages.
Speaking on the latest announcement, Helga Pile, Unison’s deputy head of health, said she was very aware of the pressures that NHS staff were under.
“Reducing the tip of the backlog has taken an overwhelming effort from staff, but the scale of the task ahead is daunting,” she said.
“The pressures aren’t going to disappear anytime soon. NHS workforce shortages must be tackled and staff discouraged from leaving.
“This means giving health workers the inflation-busting pay award they deserve,” added Ms Pile, referring to forthcoming union ballots on industrial action over pay for Agenda for Change staff.