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Fixing NHS waiting times could cost the UK up to £40billion, leaked estimates from No10 have revealed.
Downing Street documents drawn up by the Cabinet Office show Boris Johnson will have to commit between £2billion and £10billion each year for the next four years to deal with backed up waiting lists, reported The Guardian.
The huge sums come on top of core NHS funding – but will depend on the Treasury stumping up the cash to deal with growing problem.
Damning statistics yesterday revealed the NHS waiting list for routine operations in England breached 5million for the first time ever in April.
Statistics released for the first time also revealed the true extent of the NHS backlog, with almost 65,000 patients waiting at least 18 months for routine operations, such as hip and knee replacements.
Around 2,700 patients have not been treated within two years.
Hospitals turned their attention to treating coronavirus patients during the first and second waves, cancelling thousands of non-urgent procedures.
But No10 is reluctant to throw money at reducing the huge backlog, according to a Government source.
Ministers do not think the public is ‘distressed’ enough yet about the long delays to warrant extra spending, an insider claimed.
Damning figures yesterday showed the list of people waiting for treatment has breached 5million for the first time ever
Fixing NHS waiting times could cost the UK up to £40billion, leaked estimates from No10 have revealed. Pictured: Boris Johnson during a visit to Falmouth’s Maritime Museum ahead of the G7 summit in Cornwall yesterday
The figures were drawn up by the Cabinet Office — run by Michael Gove — as part of its post-Covid planning to support the health, education and justice sectors.
Many tip Gove to take over as Health Secretary after Matt Hancock, who yesterday faced a grilling from MPs over his handling of the pandemic.
No10 will launch a comprehensive spending review in Autumn after NHS England provides it with a comprehensive analysis of how it can meet its targets.
The NHS already gets around £160billion every year from the Treasury. Last year it received an extra £60billion to help fight Covid.
CRITICS SLAM NHS WAITING LISTS AS IT BREACHES FOR 5MILLION PEOPLE FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER
Critics have slammed the NHS’s ‘grim milestone’ of reaching 5million people waiting for surgery, calling on ministers to make tackling the ‘gigantic’ backlog their top priority
The Royal College of Surgeons of England has urged the government to make fixing waiting times their ‘top priority’.
Its vice president Tim Mitchell said: ‘Today we have sadly reached the grim milestone in England of more than 5million people on the NHS hospital waiting list.
‘Really long waits of more than a year, and in some cases more than two years, are particularly troubling. These are people waiting for operations like hip and knee replacements, or ear, nose and throat surgery.
‘This is life-changing surgery we’re talking about. Operations that can help people get back to work, that relieve pain and mean people can enjoy a decent quality of life again.
‘Surgery in many hospitals is almost at pre-pandemic levels, thanks to staff working Saturdays and evenings to catch up even though many of them are exhausted from the experience of the last year.’
He added: ‘Tackling this gigantic backlog requires new investment both in staff and infrastructure.’
Dr Nick Scriven, former president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said ‘warning signs about where the NHS was heading were glaringly visible a number of years ago and what we are seeing in recent monthly data is the result of a lack of preparedness for the inevitable’.
Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said the ‘monumental delays’ have likely contributed to the thousands of extra heart disease and stroke deaths in England during the pandemic.
NHS finances expert at the Health Foundation thinktank Professor Anita Chalesworth estimates ministers will need to spend £6billion per year for three years on the health service to address the backlog.
She told The Guardian: ‘The health service now has a mountain to climb.
‘Reducing the backlog of long waits and getting the NHS into a position where waiting time standards are consistently met will need a major increase in funding.’
Downing Street declined to comment on the leaked figures.
The Department of Health and Social Care said: ‘We’re backing the NHS with £1billion to tackle the waiting lists which have built up, providing up to 1million extra checks, scans and additional operations.
‘And the NHS is providing £160million to trial innovative ways to accelerate elective recovery in key areas and enable more hospitals to go further, faster.
‘That’s on top of an extra £7billion funding we’re giving health and care services this year.’
NHS England data released yesterday showed the number of patients waiting over a year for care reached 385,940 in April.
This was a drop of 50,000 from March — but is still 240 times higher than the 1,613 who were forced to wait that long before the first wave hit.
Figures show that 223,780 people were admitted for routine treatment in hospitals in April, compared to 41,121 patients in the same month last year — when Covid began to batter the NHS.
Separate NHS England figures released today showed over 2million people attended A&E in May, the highest number since January 2020.
The number A&E visits dropped to 916,575 in April 2020, marking the lowest number since records began in 2010, as people stayed at home in the first lockdown out of fear of catching Covid.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the highest number of people attending the emergency department each month did not rise above 1.8million.
The NHS data also shows that GPs made 209,452 urgent cancer referrals in April, more than double the previous year’s number of 80,031.
Urgent referrals where breast cancer symptoms were present – though not initially suspected – were up from 3,866 in April 2020 to 14,259 in April 2021.
Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director for NHS England, said it is ‘encouraging’ that the data shows routine operations, cancer and mental health care have ‘rebounded sharply’ following the ‘extensive disruption’ caused by the pandemic.
He said the NHS is ‘committed to restoring services to pre-pandemic levels’ .
Jonathan Ashworth MP, Labour’s shadow health secretary, said the waiting times reinforce the party’s call for an NHS rescue plan.
‘The reality is years of Tory underfunding and cuts across health care left our NHS weakened and exposed entering the pandemic with patients now left waiting even longer in pain and anxiety for treatment,’ he said.