NHS waiting list could DOUBLE to 12 million in just four years, a damning report warns

NHS waiting lists could double to 12 million by 2025, despite billions in taxpayers’ money still being pumped into our hospital wards, a scathing report concludes.

The National Audit Office (NAO) said millions of patients had missed essential care during the pandemic – and could now return to health services to catch up.

The number currently awaiting NHS care already stands at a record 5.83 million. But the NAO warned that this could double to 12 million in just over three years.

The report also warned that the health service is falling dramatically short on all major goals – including cancer care – with “catastrophic” consequences costing lives.

A damning report suggested Boris Johnson’s controversial new ‘health and social care tax’ would be insufficient to stop hospital waiting lists from continuing to climb

And it suggested that Boris Johnson’s controversial new “health and social care tax” would be insufficient to stop hospital waiting lists from continuing to climb. The report is likely to heighten fears that the NHS will gobble up almost all of the money from the new levy in the coming years, leaving little for the collapsing social care sector.

Today’s study by the NAO — an independent watchdog that scrutinizes government spending on Parliament — provides the most in-depth assessment yet of the pandemic’s horrific legacy on non-covid care.

Even in the best case scenario, the NAO said the number of people in England waiting for routine care – currently a record 5.8 million – will increase to 7 million by 2025.

But if the NHS were to operate at pre-pandemic levels, it could reach 12 million by 2025 – meaning a fifth of the population is lagging behind.

Experts warned that if the Omicron variant leads to more disruption and lockdowns this winter, there will be an ‘even bigger mountain to climb’. The report said up to 9.1 million patients missed referrals for elective care, saying that “millions have avoided seeking care or been unable to receive healthcare during the pandemic.”

NHS waiting lists could double to 12 million by 2025, despite billions of taxpayers' money still being pumped into our hospital wards, the report concludes.

NHS waiting lists could double to 12 million by 2025, despite billions of taxpayers’ money still being pumped into our hospital wards, the report concludes.

Many were delayed from seeking help due to the government’s ‘stay at home’ message, while others had vital surgeries and appointments canceled as hospitals faced an influx of Covid-19 patients.

The NAO said it had been ‘impossible’ for the NHS to maintain cancer care during the crisis and treatment, including chemotherapy, had ‘dropped considerably’. From March 2020 to September 2021, there were between 240,000 and 740,000 ‘missing’ urgent GP referrals for suspected cancer. And between 35,000 and 60,000 fewer people started treatment for cancer than would be expected during this period.

The report’s authors said it is uncertain how many ‘missing’ cases will return to the NHS in the coming months.

But if 50 percent seek treatment and activity continues to grow in line with pandemic plans, the waiting list could reach 12 million by March 2025.

If the NHS meets the government’s target of increasing activity by 10 percent more than planned, the waiting list would reach 7 million by 2025.

Many were delayed from seeking help due to the government's 'stay at home' message, while others had vital surgeries and appointments canceled as hospitals faced an influx of Covid-19 patients

Many were delayed from seeking help due to the government’s ‘stay at home’ message, while others had vital surgeries and appointments canceled as hospitals faced an influx of Covid-19 patients

The government’s new 1.25 percent increase in national insurance, which will take effect in April, will bring in an additional £36bn over three years for the NHS and social care.

£8bn of this will go specifically to clearing the backlog.

However, the NAO said it was uncertain whether this funding would be enough to reduce wait times and address long-term health care problems.

It noted that “waiting time performance has gradually deteriorated since 2013” and “the pandemic put even more strain on a health care system that was already cracking under the pressure.”

Data from NHS England shows that in February 2020 only 83 per cent of patients were seen within the 18-week norm. Last month, this had fallen to 66 percent.

The report said it will be impossible to clear the waiting list unless the staff shortage – of around 100,000 doctors, nurses and other NHS staff – is addressed. It also warned that “the ongoing pandemic could continue to affect bed and staff availability in unexpected ways and in the short term.”

The NAO report said that if the backlog is to be eliminated, social care needs to be supported so that elderly patients do not get stuck in hospital.

Tim Mitchell, vice president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said the forecast that waiting lists could reach 12 million was “very concerning” but “will not come as a surprise”.

He called for the creation of ‘surgical hubs’ to address the backlog, adding: ‘Frustrated patients who have to wait in pain for hip, knee, heart and other vital surgeries want to know there is a plan is to reduce waiting times. ‘

A spokesperson for NHS England said: ‘NHS staff are now pulling out all the stops to restore activity levels in electives, so anyone concerned about their health should come forward so the NHS can help you.’

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