The next government is unlikely to reduce NHS waiting lists to pre-pandemic levels in a single term, a report warns today.
It will take more than four years to reduce waits to what they were in 2019, and even longer to eliminate them, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
The analysis is a blow to Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer, who has promised to eliminate waits for routine treatments during his first term if he becomes Prime Minister.
The think tank warns that even in its optimistic scenario, the waiting number in December 2027 will be higher than before the pandemic.
Your browser does not support iframes.
Furthermore, any attempt to reduce them faster would require tax increases, a miraculous increase in NHS productivity or “tremendously difficult decisions elsewhere”, he adds.
The NHS waiting list in England was 4.6 million in December 2019 and 7.6 million at the end of December last year, the last month for which figures are available.
This figure was slightly lower than the 7.61 million at the end of November.
The government has blamed strikes by young doctors and consultants for hampering efforts to tackle waiting times.
In October last year, Labor leader Sir Keir pledged to eliminate waiting lists in the first term of a government under him.
But according to the IFS “core scenario”, waiting lists would begin to decrease “consistently but slowly” from mid-2024 and would still be 6.5 million in December 2027.
Max Warner, IFS research economist and author of the report, said: “The next government could well inherit an elective NHS waiting list in England.
‘But even with a trend pointing in the right direction, waiting lists will still be much higher than they have been and long waiting times are unlikely to go away any time soon.
‘Even under an optimistic set of assumptions, we estimate that four years from now the waiting list will still be higher than at the beginning of the pandemic, which in turn was much higher than the waiting list in the early 2010s .
“If rapidly reducing waiting lists is a priority, then the next government will probably need to dedicate additional funding to the health service and find ways to increase NHS productivity.
The analysis is a blow to Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer, who has promised to eliminate waits for routine treatments during his first term if he becomes Prime Minister. The Labor leader is pictured during a visit to a newly built housing estate in Shropshire on February 26.
“These are not easy solutions: large increases in NHS funding without associated tax increases could require some tremendously difficult decisions elsewhere, and solving the NHS productivity puzzle could require upfront investment and years of relentless political focus.” .
Mark Franks, of the Nuffield Foundation, which part-funded the report, added: “We have witnessed more than a decade of growing waiting lists in the NHS, influenced by factors such as population growth and ageing.”
‘More recently, the pandemic has exacerbated this problem by hampering the NHS’s ability to deliver healthcare services.
“For our public health services to recover, the next government needs a credible and sustainable plan to address NHS capacity, funding and productivity issues.”
Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts, said efforts to reduce the waiting list are being “frustrated” by “underfunding in the NHS, the fallout from the pandemic, the severe labor shortages and strikes.
Tim Mitchell, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said: “The longer patients on NHS lists wait, the greater the risk of their condition worsening and requiring more complex surgery.”
The IFS prediction that waiting lists are “unlikely to reach pre-pandemic levels” by December 2027, even in a “best-case scenario”, is deeply worrying.
‘It is a regrettable situation for the patients behind the numbers; anxious for a diagnosis and treatment, in avoidable pain and with their lives on hold.
“It couldn’t be clearer now that we need the Government to make a substantial investment in NHS technology and capital projects in next week’s Spring Budget, to have any hope of making a significant dent in waiting lists.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We recognize the challenges facing the NHS and are taking the long-term decisions necessary to make our health service faster, simpler and fairer, reducing waiting lists. and ensuring people get the care they need.” need.
“Overall, NHS waiting lists have fallen for three consecutive months, despite winter pressures and strikes, and we have delivered on our commitment to provide 50 million extra GP appointments months ahead of schedule, while the recent launch of Pharmacy First will help to free up 10 million GP appointments per year.
“We are investing record levels in the NHS and have commissioned the first NHS Long Term Workforce Plan to train and retain the staff our health system will need for decades to come.”