The NHS waiting list is unlikely to get any shorter this year, the think tank warns

The NHS waiting list is likely to increase over the next year

The NHS waiting list is likely to become “more or less flat” over the next year (File photo) (PA archive)

The NHS waiting list is likely to become “more or less flat” over the coming year, despite Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s ambition to cut it, a think tank warned.

The Institute of Fiscal Studies said plans to reduce the overall waiting list are unlikely to materialize this year as the health service grapples with rising demand, strikes and staff shortages.

There are currently 7.2 million people on a waiting list for routine treatment, including more than a million Londoners – the second highest regional total.

NHS England pledged to eliminate waiting times of more than two years for treatment by July 2022.

It said waits over a year would be over by March 2025, while waits over 18 months would end in April 2023.

The IFS report acknowledged that the NHS had made good progress on some of its waiting list targets, including a 94 per cent drop in the number of people waiting two years for treatment between February and November last year.

But it warned that the number of people waiting from 18 months to two years had risen 7 percent through September.

The number of people waiting between 1.25 and 1.5 years increased from 86,000 in February 2022 to 115,300 in September 2022, a 34 percent increase, the IFS said.

This number was “basically zero” before the pandemic, the think tank added.

The IFS said the fact that such numbers continue to grow “illustrates the wider challenge: while waiting lists generally continue to grow, it is mathematically impossible for the NHS to reduce the number of people waiting for all time periods.

“Instead, it can only prioritize reducing some groups, such as those waiting more than two years, while other parts of the waiting list continue to grow.”

The NHS has also committed to increasing treatment volume to 30 per cent above pre-pandemic levels by 2024/25.

But the IFS report said this was “very unlikely to be achieved – not least because of the lingering effects of Covid-19 and other pressures on the system.”

“As a result, waiting lists – in our view – will not decrease quickly. Instead, our central expectation is that waiting lists will become more or less flat over the next year and only gradually decline from mid-2024.”

For the waiting list to drop, the IFS said the NHS would need to achieve “a truly remarkable increase in the number of patients it manages to treat”.

Also, the number of people on the waiting list for treatment should remain “unexpectedly low”.

Max Warner, research economist at the IFS and an author of the report, said: “It is to the credit of the NHS that it has made real progress in its efforts to reduce the number of patients waiting very long for care, virtually eliminating waiting times for care. of two years or more.

“But efforts to increase treatment volumes have so far been significantly less successful…

“Turning things around and delivering on the core ambition of increasing elective activity to 30% above pre-pandemic levels by 2024/25 would require unprecedented double-digit treatment volume growth over the next two years.

“That would be more than three times the growth rate in the five years leading up to Covid, and it seems increasingly unattainable. As a result, there is a good chance that the waiting list will flatten rather than decrease in the coming year.”

Commenting on the analysis, NHS Providers CEO Sir Julian Hartley said: “Increasing pressures on acute, ambulance, mental health and community services, such as chronic labor shortages, could hamper efforts to further reduce the backlog if there are nothing is done about it.

“A fully funded government staffing plan will greatly contribute to this and ensure that the recovery is sustainable.

“The ongoing strikes are also causing massive disruption to services and threaten to undo hard-won progress on care backlogs. To put an end to this, the government urgently needs to talk to the unions about wages for this financial year.”

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