The impact of crumbling NHS services on the economy has been laid bare by new analysis showing that untreated health problems are driving middle-aged people out of the workforce.
The UK has seen an extraordinary rise in economic inactivity since the start of the COVID pandemic, driven largely by middle-aged workers quitting their jobs, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
Some 386,096 50 to 64 year-olds have left the workforce since the pre-coronavirus pandemic period of December 2019 to February 2020.
Meanwhile, NHS waiting lists have reached record levels, with 6.84m people now on waiting lists for medical treatment in England, compared to 4.43m before the pandemic.
Some 377,689 patients are waiting over one year for treatment - compared to 1,032 people waiting over a year in July 2019.
New ONS analysis published on Tuesday shows that health issues are a key driver of economic activity among over 50s.
Some 51% of over 50s workers who had left the workforce since the beginning of the pandemic have an illness, figures show.
Shockingly, just under one fifth (18%) of workers who have left the workforce since the start of a the pandemic are on an NHS waiting list, compared to one eighth of the population as a whole.
This rose to 35% for over 50s who left their previous job due to a health-related condition.
Dr Deepti Gurdasani, a clinical epidemiologist from Queen Mary University in London, criticised the government for not listening to medical experts regarding the link between health and the economy.
She tweeted: “Health and economy are intricately connected... who knew? (clue: literally everyone in public health & epidemiology that was screaming this from the rooftops- to a wilfully ignorant govt & media).”
Since the coronavirus pandemic, the overall number of people not participating in the workforce due to long-term sickness has risen sharply.
Some 2,464,000 people are currently economically inactive due to long-term sickness, an increase of 352,000 since before the start of the pandemic.
Last week health secretary Therese Coffey promised a “laser-like” focus on NHS problems as she set out plans for patients to see a GP within two weeks and committed to keeping the four-hour A&E target.
She told parliament a £500 million fund would enable medically fit people to be discharged from hospital more quickly, supporting them to receive care in the community or their own homes instead.
Meanwhile, Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng confirmed in his mini-budget that the previous government's income tax rate hike – introduced to pay for social care and tackle the NHS backlog – would be reversed from 6 November.
Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said Labour would reinstate the income tax rate of 45% on earnings above £150,000 and use the money generated to train more new district nurses, health visitors and midwives.
She said a Labour administration would also implement the “biggest expansion of medical school places in British history” in a bid to ensure the NHS has the “doctors it needs” to help with the backlog.