Shropshire Star

‘Long waits remain endemic in the NHS’ – report

It comes as the NHS in England is to publish the latest waiting time data – the first since the new Government took office.

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A general view of staff on an NHS hospital ward with back view of nurse pulling empty wheelchair

Progress tackling the NHS waiting numbers has “stagnated” and “long waits remain endemic in the NHS”, according to a report.

While progress has been made in some areas, such as cataract surgery, waits for some major surgeries have been slower to get back to pre-Covid levels, experts said.

It comes as the NHS in England is to publish the latest waiting time data – the first since the new Government took office.

Experts from the Nuffield Trust point out that Labour has inherited a waiting list for pre-planned hospital treatment of around 7.5 million in England – a 66% increase since the start of the pandemic.

“While recent waiting list numbers for elective care have been marginally better than at their peak in the autumn of 2023, progress has stagnated and long waits remain endemic in the NHS,” the authors of the Nuffield Trust report wrote.

New analysis by the think tank compared the NHS in England with other comparable health systems, examining waiting times for some surgeries pre and post-Covid.

Average waiting times for hip replacements jumped from around 87 days before 2020 to 180 days in 2020 in the NHS in England. For the three following years, average waits remained around 128 days – nearly 50% longer than before 2020, the authors found.

Some other countries appeared to perform better with little change in waiting times in Spain and Finland. In Italy waits after the pandemic hit were actually lower than those beforehand.

Researchers also found a similar situation for people waiting for knee replacements.

“England was again in the poorer performing pack of countries, alongside Canada, Sweden and New Zealand,” the authors wrote.

They found that average waits rose from around 91 days before 2020 to 209 days in 2020. In the three years since, waits remained around 142 days.

Meanwhile, post-2020 waits for knee replacements in Spain, Italy, Portugal and Finland appeared to be similar to, or shorter than, before the pandemic.

But they did find that average waits for cataract surgery “appear to have been better insulated from the effects of Covid-19 compared to many other countries”.

Before 2020, average waits in England were around 63 days. In the three years after 2020, this fell to an average of 42 days.

Sarah Reed, senior fellow at Nuffield Trust and author of the paper, said: “Health systems all over the world are still dealing with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, with many still struggling to bring down waiting times.

“However, it’s striking that in England our pace of recovery has been much slower for major surgeries like hip and knee replacements, but for some minor procedures we appear to have improved more quickly than nearly everywhere else.

“This should raise a host of important questions for the new Government on what it will take to get ahead of the elective backlog and reinforces how for procedures that require the whole system to work well together we’re really falling short.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The NHS is broken. Too many people are waiting far too long for treatment. We are determined to change that.

“It is the mission of this Government to get the NHS back on its feet, so it is there for all of us when we need it, once again.

“As a first step to cut waiting lists, we will provide an extra 40,000 operations, scans and appointments a week, with more clinics at evenings and weekends.”

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