Patient backlog threatens to jeopardise the ambitious NHS long-term plan
Between April and July, around 3 million people were left waiting for cancer screening, writes Lord Hunt. | PA Images
Already, two million people are waiting more than 18 weeks for hospital treatment. The NHS has a major task to get normal services back on track, let alone implement the long-term plan.
The NHS has earned deserved praise for its magnificent efforts during the coronavirus crisis. Yet, it is difficult to ignore the huge backlog of cases arising from the shutdown of most non-Covid services which threatens to jeopardise the ambitious long-term plan.
Already, two million people are waiting more than 18 weeks for hospital treatment, with the NHS Confederation estimating that the waiting list for routine procedures could reach 10 million by the end of this year. The Royal College of Physicians, meanwhile, have warned that patients health will have deteriorated to the point where they will need far more extensive treatment than planned.
It’s particularly severe in cancer services with Cancer Research UK estimate that between April and July, around 3 million people were left waiting for cancer screening, urgent cancer referrals plummeted leaving hundreds of thousands without cancer tests and more than 30,000 fewer cancer treatments took place compared to normal.
When Covid first hit our country, the NHS was already suffering a shortage of doctors and nurses – as well as the worst four-hour wait performance in A&E since figures were first collected. And corresponding failures on key targets for cancer, GP appointments and hospital treatment merely emphasised the impact of pressures across the piece.
NHS Providers do not believe it is feasible or realistic to expect the NHS to deliver everything that has been asked for
Now the situation seems ever more challenging. NHS Providers have warned that the combination of years of underfunding and rising demand; the current governments manifesto commitments; and the pressures and additional costs created by the Pandemic, means there is a major mismatch between demand, and capacity.
The NHS, therefore, has a major task to get normal services back on track, let alone implement the long-term plan. Ministers have set much store by its 5 year programme, which aims to bring in a new service model that give patients more options, better support and joined up care.
It also aims for GPs to extend the range of convenient local services; and envisages a further expansion of treatment centres to support those with learning disabilities and mental health conditions.
NHS Providers do not believe it is feasible or realistic to expect the NHS to deliver everything that has been asked for and is urging the Government to agree a realistic and funded timeframe to deliver key priorities for the duration of this Parliament, aligned with the Comprehensive Spending Review.
To judge by Minister Bethell’s response in the Lords today at oral PQs, the Government’s focus is on the backlog. But it can’t avoid planning for the long term.
Whilst wartime analogies have proved popular over the past six months, one could prove more useful than most. The origins of the NHS lay in the Beveridge report, which Nye Bevan and the post-1945 Labour government then built on. If ever we needed a second Beveridge it is now – with perhaps this time a view on sorting out social care.
Lord Hunt is a Labour Member of the House of Lords.