Health leaders say that the UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s promise to reduce the record waiting lists in England for routine hospital treatments by the next general election is at risk as the NHS is pushed towards a “tipping point” due to strikes over pay.
The warning from NHS Providers – which represents health groups in England – came before a junior doctor’s four day walkout. The fifth stoppage in March will add to the 835,00 operations and appointments cancelled since December.
The official data released on Thursday revealed a jump in the backlog of procedures, such as hip or knee replacements, of around 100,000 to a record high of 7,6mn for June. Emergency services are still facing severe pressure.
Sir Julian Hartley said that NHS Providers staff “pulled out all the stop” to reduce queues – One of Sunak’s “people’s priority”ahead the expected general election next year in which health will be a major battleground.
He warned that, as consultants plan to join picketlines within two weeks, the number of appointments and operations rescheduled could be “close” to 1mn by the end August.
“The sheer amount of treatment that is being delayed. . . Hartley said that the trusts will find it difficult to reduce waiting lists in as many ways as the government desires. Hartley said that we could be nearing a tipping-point. . . It is vital that government and unions reach a breakthrough as soon as possible.”
Steve Barclay, the Health Secretary, said that the walkout “would cause more appointments and procedures” to be delayed and urged British Medical Association members to accept the “final” government pay offer.
This award is recommended by an independent pay review body. It gives doctors in their first year of training a 10.3 percent increase and an annual average rise of 8.8 percent, worth between £3,000 to £4,700 depending on where they are at the training stage.
Sunak’s actions were criticized by Dr Robert Laurenson, and Dr VivekTrivedi. They said that Sunak “had declared an end to discussions [on pay] before having first stepped into the doctor’s room”.
“We have repeatedly stated that our doors remain open.” . . “As long as you can make us a credible proposal that addresses the pay erosion of over a quarter in the past 15 years”, they said.
Data showed that at the end June, 314 patients had waited more than two years for routine care and 7,177 for more than 18 months, while 383,083 had waited for more than one year and 97.275 for more than 65 weeks.
Sunak stated last week that NHS has “eliminated” the number two-year-waiters and “practically eliminated” the number one-and a half-year-waiters. He blamed the strike for increasing backlogs.
According to figures released on Thursday, at the end of June, over 40% of patients waited more than 18 months to start treatment, compared to a target set by the health services of 8%. The median waiting period for patients to begin treatment was 14.3 week.
535 000 emergency hospital admissions in July were up 7.7 percent on the previous year.
Rory Deighton is the acute network director of the NHS Confederation which represents frontline managers. He said that it was “unsurprising, but regrettable”, that the elective waiting lists had increased and activity levels were lower than they were before the pandemic. He added that waiting times of 18 months to two years were “the lowest ever”.
He said: “Imagine what the NHS would be like today if the industrial action had not continued.”