The Daily Telegraph

NHS waiting lists unlikely to fall before next election

Sunak pledge to patients appears out of reach after IFS report suggests figures will ‘flatline for next year’

- By Laura Donnelly Health editor

THE Tories will not see NHS waiting lists falling before the next general election, analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) suggests. Last month Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, made cutting waiting lists one of his five priorities, urging the public to judge the Government “on the results we achieve”. More than seven million people are on waiting lists in England.

Around 150,000 appointmen­ts and operations are likely to have been scrapped by the time this week’s walkouts by nurses, physiother­apists and ambulance workers end.

The IFS forecast yesterday that waiting lists were likely to “more or less flatline for the next year”. Health officials have promised to increase elective activity by 30 per cent by 2024-25 in order to cut backlogs.

However, the IFS said that between January and November last year, the NHS treated 7 per cent fewer patients from waitings list than it did over the same period in 2019.

The IFS said that for waiting lists to start falling this year “as the Prime Minister has all but promised”, the NHS would either need to achieve a “truly remarkable increase” in how many patients it treats, or “the number of people joining the list for treatment stays unexpected­ly low – whether because they do not think they need NHS care or because they are cannot access it.”

An elective recovery plan published by NHS England a year ago committed to eliminate waits of more than two years by July 2022, with 18-month waits ended by April this year, and waits of longer than a year gone by March 2025. Officials said the NHS would deliver around 30 per cent more elective activity (treatments planned in advance) by 2024-25 than before the pandemic.

The IFS said the NHS had made progress on some of its aims, with the number of people waiting more than two years falling by 94 per cent between February and November last year.

However, the number of patients waiting for more than a year rose by more than a third over the same period, from 300,000 in February to 410,000.

An NHS spokesman said: “Staff across the NHS have worked extremely hard since the elective recovery plan was published a year ago to virtually eliminate two-year waits for care and as the IFS has rightly pointed out, the NHS is still on course to end 18-month waits, while the overall waiting list dropped for the first time since the pandemic began.

“The NHS continues to deliver on the most ambitious catch-up programme in its history and has made progress despite a very challengin­g winter with the ‘twindemic’ of Covid and flu.”

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