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Reaction to waiting times data: NHS will struggle to recover from Covid

The latest performance data reveals that hospital waiting lists in England are longer than at any time since records began, and nearly 388,000 people have waited more than a year to start treatment.

Here’s the key reaction:

Dr David Wrigley, BMA council deputy chair

“Today’s statistics are a stark reminder that, despite falling Covid-19 infection rates and the progress of the vaccination campaign, the health service remains in an incredibly precarious state.

“With the waiting list for treatment reaching another record-high, almost 388,000 people have waited for longer than a year for routine operations in England – a staggering 240-fold increase from 12 months ago.

“Behind each of these shocking figures are people – people facing months of pain and anguish as they wait for vital treatment.

“Doctors want so desperately to provide care to patients, and it distresses them to see so many people not getting the care they need.

“Meanwhile, staff are exhausted after spending a year battling the pandemic on the front line, and are now looking with severe trepidation at the largest backlog in care ever, so it is vital that their own health and wellbeing are protected – allowing them time to rest and recover.

“With other recent data suggesting a small rise in hospital admissions for Covid-19 in recent days, now is a critical time for the health service. The NHS, its staff and patients – already stretched to the limit – cannot afford to be overwhelmed by a new surge in infections.”

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of the NHS Confederation

“We cannot ignore the scale of the challenge still facing the health service. There is still a major backlog in terms of diagnostic and elective activity as a result of COVID-19, and our own analysis suggests there may be far more below the surface. As it stands, there are now 4.7 million people waiting for treatment, and nearly 390,000 have waited for over a year. There has also been a concerning increase in the number of people having to wait longer than 62 days after being urgently referred for suspected cancer.

“There is a plan in place to tackle this backlog and through collaboration and innvovation, our members are finding ways to improve throughput and efficiency. The £1 billion pledge in the Budget will go some way towards supporting this, but health leaders are clear that the NHS will be recovering for years to come, and this must be appropriately resourced in the long-term. There must also be investment in growing and maintaining the workforce, alongside continued funding to deal with COVID pressures, as we must all be live the possibility of a resurgence as the national lockdown restrictions continue to ease.”

David Maguire, Senior Analyst at The King’s Fund

“Today’s figures paint a bleak picture of the challenges facing the English health service in the wake of Covid-19. As NHS staff have battled the pandemic, waiting times for routine care have swollen. Nearly one in 12 people on NHS waiting lists have now been stuck waiting over a year. Even if the NHS meets its challenging targets to increase activity in hospitals, the queues for care are set to continue growing for many months to come.

“Long waiting times don’t just affect patients in need of hospital or cancer care. There are now growing concerns about access to community services that help to keep people healthy, and mental health services, especially those for children and young People.

“Getting the full range of NHS services back on track will take many years. The government needs to be honest with the public and start planning for a long-term NHS recovery. A good place to start would be with a fully funded workforce strategy to address the persistent staff shortages that have dogged the service for years.”

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