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A health minister was today forced to defend the Government for ‘terrifying’ millions into not coming forward for treatment during the pandemic after Sajid Javid warned that the waiting list will keep rising for another two years.
Edward Argar argued the queues were a ‘reflection of the measures taken during the pandemic’, including halting elective care during lockdowns.
But he claimed people ‘not coming forward’ for a variety of reasons was also behind the crisis, with an estimated 10million ‘missing’ appointments since 2020.
When grilled on whether the Government’s advice to avoid the NHS was to blame for spiralling waiting lists, Mr Argar said the measures ‘had to be put in place’ to ensure medics could deal with Covid.
Studies have shown that the Government’s ‘stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives’ messaging was powerful and made people reluctant to use the health service.
A record 6million people in England — one in nine — are currently on the waiting list for routine treatment or tests, and 300,000 have waited for more than a year — 200 times more than before the pandemic.
Mr Argar’s comments come amid a row over the NHS’ backlog recovery plan, which was described as ‘falling seriously short’.
Announced yesterday, the Government’s blueprint promises to scrap year-long waits by 2025, while some cancer targets won’t be met until at least 2024.
Mr Argar defended the plans as ‘ambitious but realistic’.
But Tory backbenchers criticised the plans for lacking ambition. Former chief whip Mark Harper suggested that families would have expected better results from April’s £12billion tax grab.
A Whitehall source said health chiefs had refused to accept tough targets demanded by the Treasury.
Edward Argar this morning blamed people who did not seek NHS care during the Covid crisis for fuelling the waiting list, which has left one in nine people in England waiting for treatment or tests
The above graph shows how the NHS waiting list could grow up to 2025. The National Audit Office warns if 50 per cent of missing patients return and demand grows at 3.2 per cent a year then the list could surge above 12million. But should the NHS manage to increase treatments dished out by more than 10 per cent a year then the list should stabilise at 8million in 2024 before falling slightly, they suggested
WHAT’S IN THE RECOVERY PLAN?
- END TWO YEAR WAITS BY JULY 2022
- END 18-MONTH WAITS BY APRIL 2023
- END 65-WEEK WAITS BY MARCH 2024
- END ONE YEAR WAITS BY MARCH 2025
- 9MILLION MORE CHECKS AND TESTS BY MARCH 2025
- ELECTIVE CARE WAITING LISTS TO COME DOWN FROM MARCH 2024
- 75% OF URGENT CANCER REFERRALS DIAGNOSED OR RULED OUT WITHIN 28 DAYS BY MARCH 2024
- NUMBER OF PEOPLE WAITING MORE THAN 62 DAYS FOR URGENT CANCER REFERRAL BACK TO PRE-PANDEMIC BY MARCH 2023
- 95% OF PEOPLE RECEIVE DIAGNOSTIC TEST WITHIN SIX WEEKS BY MARCH 2025
- 30% MORE ELECTIVE CARE BY 2024/25 THAN BEFORE THE PANDEMIC
* ALL TARGETS DEPEND ON MAINTAINING ‘LOW LEVELS OF COVID’
HOW WILL THE TARGETS BE ACHIEVED?
- AT LEAST 100 COMMUNITY DIAGNOSTIC CENTRES OVER THE NEXT THREE YEARS
- NEW SURGICAL HUBS ADDED TO CURRENT NETWORK OF 122
- OFFER PATIENTS ALTERNATIVE LOCATIONS FOR TREATMENT WITH SHORTER WAITING TIMES
- TEAM OF SPECIALISTS TO HELP PATIENTS PREPARE FOR OPERATIONS
- CONDUCT MORE TESTS AT SAME TIME
- GROUPS OF CLINICIANS TO GIVE INSTANT ACCESS TO TEST RESULTS
- SEPARATE ELECTIVE AND URGENT CARE TO ENSURE ‘RESILIENCE’ OF ELECTIVE CARE DELIVERY
- ‘STRENGTHENED RELATIONSHIP’ WITH PRIVATE SECTOR TO SPEED UP RECOVERY
- REFORMING OUTPATIENT APPOINTMENTS
- ONLINE PLATFORM FOR PEOPLE IN QUEUE TO GO LIVE THIS MONTH
- NHS TO ANALYSE WAITING LIST DATA BASED ON AGE, DEPRIVATION AND ETHNICITY TO TACKLE DISPARITIES
Some 306,996 patients, many in agony, are being forced to wait at least a year for vital NHS tests and treatment. This compares to just 1,600 before the pandemic.
And one in nine people in England and one in five in Wales are waiting for healthcare, with 75 per cent of those in the queue waiting for diagnostic tests.
Asked on talkRADIO how the NHS backlog spiralled out of control, Mr Argar said it was a combination of Covid measures introduced by the Government and the public’s own doing.
He said: ‘So we’ve got a waiting list of 6million, that’s gone up from where it was before the pandemic by give or take around 2million.
‘That’s a reflection of the measures that were taken during the pandemic, in terms of hospitals not being able to perform as many normal procedures and people not coming forward for a variety of reasons.
‘But there’s 8.5million people we estimate who normally would have come forward who haven’t.
‘Now they won’t all necessarily come forward, but we’ve got to plan for that, which is why in this plan we set out yesterday, we set out what we think is an ambitious but realistic trajectory to start bringing those waiting lists down and help people get the treatment they need to tackle both pain and anxiety they will be feeling if they’re waiting for a diagnostic test.’
Host Julia Hartley-Brewer said people stayed away from the health service because they were ‘terrified out of their minds by adverts that told them the plague is going to kill them if they step out of their home’ and that their job was to protect the NHS.
Asked whether the Government should take responsibility for telling people to stay away from the health service, Mr Argar said: ‘I think the NHS was under huge pressure in that first wave and later on in the year.
‘There are a number of measures that had to be put in place. Firstly, there had to be capacity in the NHS for clinicians to treat those with the most urgent illness.
‘And when someone was admitted to hospital with Covid, they were very seriously ill so there had to be the capacity to treat those people who came in in that emergency situation, which meant some electives, a large number of electives had to be postponed as a result of that.’
Top doctors warned that the stay at home message discouraged patients from turning to GPs over health concerns.
And studies have shown it deterred thousands from attending hospitals with life-threatening symptoms and may have contributed to a surge in heart attack deaths.
Unveiling the Government’s long-awaited Elective Recovery Plan for tackling the backlog yesterday, Mr Javid warned that waiting lists could soar to 14million without action.
But he said that even with the new plan, the number waiting for care would ‘keep rising before it falls’.
He said: ‘A lot of people understandably stayed away from the NHS during the heights of the pandemic, and the most up-to-date estimate from the NHS is that that number is around 10 million people.
‘Assuming half of the missing demand from the pandemic returns over the next three years, the NHS expect waiting lists to be reducing by March 2024.’
The NHS plan includes measures such as sending patients across the country for surgery, covering the cost of their accommodation and transport, if their local hospital is too busy.
New ‘surgical hubs’ – where surgeons perform the same procedure all day – will also be established to ‘fast-track’ operations. More private hospitals will also be used for NHS operations.
And 100 ‘one-stop-shop’ diagnostic centres will be established in venues including shopping centres to clear the enormous backlog of tests including CT and MRI scans. The NHS will also deliver around 30 per cent more elective activity by 2024 than before the pandemic.
The publication of the plan was delayed over the weekend after the Treasury demanded tougher targets to deliver value for money for taxpayers.
An extra £36billion is being pumped into health and social care over the next three years though an unprecedented national insurance hike of 1.25 per cent.
But the Treasury lost the battle for a more ambitious plan, and instead some existing targets have been watered down.
A target of eliminating the number of patients waiting for two years has been pushed back from March this year to July. And on cancer care, the NHS have been given until March 2023 to return the proportion starting treatment within two-months back to pre-pandemic levels.
Last night, critics said the plan ‘fell well short’ of what was needed, noting it did not include a workforce plan to address chronic staffing shortages.
They also warned it does not address the crisis in social care that means medically fit patients are clogging up hospital beds due to there being no community care available.
One Whitehall source said that targets agreed with health chiefs last year had been watered down, with some initiatives, such as a greater focus on payment by result for elective operations, dropped from the plan altogether.
‘It feels like Government by the NHS for the NHS,’ they added. ‘We take the pain of raising the money for them and we end up with a plan that is much more pessimistic than we thought we had agreed.’
Conservative former chief whip Mark Harper said parts of the plan are not ‘ambitious enough’.
The NHS recovery plan was due to be published on Monday but it was pushed back at the 11th hour because of a row over ‘tough targets’ demanded by the Chancellor Rishi Sunak (pictured left, today) and the Prime Minister (right, also today)
He added: ‘Many on this side of the House were very reluctant but did support the increase in resources for the NHS through the increase to National Insurance and then the health and social care levy, but when we are making that argument to our constituents they will expect that money to deliver results.
Data-sharing care plan to stop elderly being ‘bounced around’
Hospitals will share patient data with local councils under new reforms to stop patients being ‘bounced around’ between the NHS and social care.
Every patient will be given a single ‘digital care record’ that can be accessed by pharmacists, carers and hospital staff under plans unveiled last night.
The Prime Minister said it is vital to ‘join up’ the health service with social care systems to ‘ensure no patient falls through the gap’.
A new White Paper on Integration set out proposals aimed at tackling the disconnect between hospitals and community care systems, which has a particularly damaging impact on older and vulnerable patients.
Under wide-ranging changes, the NHS will share patient data with local authorities so they each have a single record which is available to carers in the community as well as nurses and doctors at hospitals.
This will replace the current situation where those with complex care needs often ‘find themselves having to navigate complex and disjointed systems’.
For example, currently a patient with dementia may receive an at-home carer funded by the local authority but this carer will not be given access to the patient’s medical records from a recent hospital stay.
The digital care record will allow patients to ‘book appointments, order prescriptions, and communicate with their care providers on one platform’, rather than communicating with several different organisations.
People will no longer have to remember key facts such as dates of diagnosis or medicines prescribed, taking pressure off patients to coordinate their own care.
The White Paper also aims to tackle the problem of delayed discharges from hospital, which has knock-on effects on the whole NHS system and is hampering attempts to tackle the elective care backlog.
‘I think only getting to 99 per cent of patients waiting less than a year by March 2024 isn’t ambitious enough.’
And former Tory Sir Edward Leigh urged the Government to look at giving tax reliefs to private health insurance, as people of a certain age, himself included, are ‘terrified’.
He said: ‘They think that if something goes wrong, they may have to wait in pain for two years and we can’t wait until March 2024 to join the back of a slightly shorter queue.
‘And then, we see our friends who have private health insurance, I am not one, we can’t afford it, we see they are seen within days.’
Health think tanks and medical organisations expressed concerns the waiting lists will continue to spiral beyond 2024 because there are simply not enough staff to deliver care.
Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting said: ‘The single biggest challenge facing the NHS is the workforce challenge. There are 93,000 staffing vacancies in the NHS today.
‘We know the NHS want a workforce plan, the public want a workforce plan and he promised a workforce plan. So where is it?’
He said the plan ‘falls seriously short of the scale of the challenge facing the NHS and the misery that is affecting millions of people stuck on record high NHS waiting lists’.
Richard Murray, chief executive of The King’s Fund think tank, welcomed the initiatives in the plan but said it could not be achieved without more staff.
He said: ‘Without enough clinical staff these targets will remain aspirational numbers in a plan rather than real change for patients.
‘For many years the NHS has been hamstrung by chronic staff shortages, and today’s plan is a long way short of providing a comprehensive solution.’
Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers which represents hospitals, said: ‘We need to have the staff in place to achieve all of these ambitions.
‘Workforce shortages and the resulting unsustainable workloads on existing staff, are the biggest challenges facing trusts right now. We need urgent national action to tackle this.
‘And there can be no end to NHS delays without a sustainable workforce and funding solution for social care. This is not being addressed with anything like the urgency it demands.’
Pat Cullen, from the Royal College of Nursing, said: ‘Nursing staff will look at this plan and ask where the staff will credibly come from to deliver it in good time.
‘Hospital care improvement is not possible in isolation – social care and community services too, each operating with high levels of unfilled nurse jobs, require equal attention.’
Saj scoffed as if to say ‘Who is this oily tick?’: HENRY DEEDES watches the Health Secretary spar with his Labour counterpart
Speak to any pimply-faced Parliament swot and they’ll tell you that Wes Streeting is the man to watch.
Received wisdom – not least from young Wesley himself – is that the shadow health secretary is Labour’s leader-in-waiting.
In politics it rarely pays to appear too keen on the top job but one suspects he can’t help it. Ambition courses through those boyish veins.
Yesterday, Streeting came to the Commons to hear his counterpart Sajid Javid deliver his statement on how the Government plans to tackle the staggering NHS backlog.
The slightly proprietorial air which has accompanied him since his promotion to Labour’s front bench was hard to miss.
There was a wink at a colleague, a knowing nod to one of the clerks.
One dreads to think of the toe-curling face-off which might have occurred had the similarly uppity Matt Hancock still been health secretary. It would have been like two rival head boys smarting for a punch-up.
Waiting for the off, Streeting sat cooly twirling one foot in the air and admiring his own prepared text, much as Keir Starmer is prone to do.
Actually, there is rather a lot about Streeting which reminds you of his dear leader: same sharply parted hair, same perturbed expression that worries it might have left the oven on at home.
When he did spring to his feet, Streeting could hardly hold back.
Sajid Javid speaking in the House of Commons on how the Government plans to tackle the staggering NHS backlog on Tuesday
Wes Streeting, Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care said the Government is ‘sending the NHS into battle empty-handed’
There was no ‘Covid backlog’ he said, just a ‘Tory backlog’ from years of underinvestment.
The Government hadn’t ‘fixed the roof while the sun was shining’. Rather it was ‘sending the NHS into battle empty-handed.’
Not a speech fizzing with originality – or subtlety – but hey ho.
The Saj didn’t appreciate his boisterous opponent’s tone. He spluttered and scoffed as if to say ‘Who is this oily tick?’
He accused Streeting of ‘scaremongering’ and ‘playing party politics’ with the NHS.
‘Instead of standing up for the British people he’s just thinking of his own leadership prospects,’ Javid added – but rather clumsily and so failing to provoke the requisite cheer from his own side.
He’s a sweet soul, our Saj. The cut-and-thrust of the House doesn’t come easily to him.
From Labour’s benches came hoots of mocking laughter: ‘That all ya got?’ Like most Labour frontbenchers, Streeting makes a big show of wearing a face mask in the chamber yet takes it off to hurl insults – and doubtless spittle – across the despatch box.
His Labour colleagues, of course, had nothing positive to say. They never do when it comes to the NHS. However many billions are poured down its ever-hungry gullet they will always say it’s not enough.
Mind you, Tory MPs were hardly enthused by the lengthy waits patients must now endure either.
Sprawled in the corner like someone in the Lord’s Pavilion following a two-bottler lunch was Sir Edward Leigh (Con, Gainsborough).
Sir Edward was ‘terrified’ at the prospect of having to wait two years for an operation, and suggested the Government reintroduce tax relief on private medical insurance.
‘And don’t just say ‘I’ll speak to the Chancellor’,’ he implored.
Javid non-committally agreed to meet with Leigh and discuss the idea with him at some point. Translation: ‘I’ll speak to the Chancellor.’
Mark Harper (Con, Forest of Dean) wanted assurances that the £12billion a year raised by April’s National Insurance hike would not be frittered away.
Saj assured Harper it remained his ‘ambition’ the money be ‘spent wisely and in the very best interests of taxpayers’. One for the sizeable Whitehall drawer marked ‘wishful thinking’, I fear.
Earlier, the day’s proceedings began with Sir Lindsay Hoyle rebuking Boris Johnson for his attack on Starmer for failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile.
‘Words have consequences,’ he warned in an apparent reference to the mob that ambushed Starmer outside Parliament on Tuesday which some on the Left have claimed was a direct result of Johnson’s remarks.
Some on the Conservative benches looked notably peeved at the Speaker slapping the PM down in this rather partial manner. I dare say the subject will resurface at PMQs today at some point.