NHS COVID backlog will keep getting worse 'for a while'

Watch: NHS waiting lists are going to get worse - Sajid Javid

NHS waiting lists are going to get longer before there is any improvement because of the COVID backlog, health secretary Sajid Javid has warned.

The health service was already under pressure before the pandemic, but the suspension of routine surgery has meant around six million people are now on waiting lists for non-urgent surgery in England.

"Because of COVID the NHS rightly focused on COVID patients which has sadly meant that the waiting lists have risen significantly," Javis told Sky News.

"I have to tell you I think the waiting list is going to rise for a while until it starts to fall."

He added that up to nine million people stayed away from the NHS during the height of the pandemic as doctors dealt with the influx of COVID-19 patients.

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Sajid Javid has warned NHS waiting lists will get worse before they get better (Sky News)
Sajid Javid has warned NHS waiting lists will get worse before they get better (Sky News)

Javid added: "They did the right thing, but we want them all to come back because I want them to know the NHS is there, it's open."

Javid has said a plan to deal with the NHS backlog in England - which was meant to have been published by today - will be published “shortly”.

He rejected reports that the national recovery plan had been put on hold because the Treasury has refused to sign off on it.

Mr Javid told Sky News: “We will publish the plan shortly. What I would say about the Treasury is that I couldn’t wish for a better partner when it comes to the challenges I have. I don’t recognise that (suggestion) at all.

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“Having been chancellor, having a close relationship with the Treasury, having a strong partnership for any department is crucial and right now for health and care I am just really pleased we have got that really good working relationship.”

Mr Javid said the plan had been due to be published in December but had been put on hold due to the Omicron outbreak.

On Monday, Javid promised that one publicly announced part of that plan – the My Planned Care platform – would be available soon.

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File photo dated 03/10/14 of an NHS hospital ward. People living in poorer regions of England face longer waits for routine NHS care, according to new analysis. Issue date: Monday September 27, 2021.
A plan to deal with the worsening NHS backlog was meant to be published today. (PA)

Javid said the feature – which will allow patients to use the NHS website ahead of planned operations to see waiting times information for their trust – would be available later in February.

Those due to have surgery will be able to access tailored information in a bid to have “increased transparency and information sharing”, the Department of Health (DH) said.

It comes after new analysis revealed almost 300,000 people were unable to see a cancer specialist within two weeks of an urgent referral between April and November.

The research from information in the House of Commons library found there were 290,428 breaches of a maximum two-week wait target during those seven months.

According to the analysis commissioned by the Labour Party, that is the highest number of breaches in the 11 years since the two-week target was introduced.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, who previously advised Tony Blair, described as “frustrating” the hold-up of a plan to tackle the backlog of patients on hospital waiting lists in England.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think the NHS is starting to recover; we want to get on with this plan, and it’s really important that we are accountable for public money that’s spent.

“But the danger is that if you take on targets that are unrealistic, you end up skewing clinical priorities in pursuit of those targets and the particular challenge that we’ve got now is that, whilst we know we’ve got millions on the waiting list, we don’t know how many people out there in the community ought to be on the waiting list but didn’t come forward during Covid…

“Overall, this is a frustrating situation for the NHS because there is a plan that’s been agreed with leaders; I think we’re ready to go with it and we want to get on with the work.”

Asked about the impact of heightened tension between No 10 and the Treasury, he said: “I think, when any Government is in political difficulties, it means that these kind of policy choices get politicised in ways that are unhelpful.

“There is a difficult decision to be made about precisely what level of target you should apply to money going into the health service, and that needs to be made as far as possible on kind of rational, objective grounds.”