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Plans to combat NHS waiting lists delayed

Plans to tackle the backlog of patients on hospital waiting lists in England have been delayed following intervention by the Treasury.

NHS England had expected to be publish their report on Monday following months of consultation with health leaders.

On BBC Breakfast this morning, Health and Care Secretary, Sajid Javid denied reports the Treasury had blocked the announcement, blaming the Omicron wave for the delay saying it would be published “soon”.

In spite of the delay, Mr Javid announced a new online portal that will allow people needing non-urgent surgery to get information about their waiting times.

Caused by the suspension of routine surgery during the pandemic and the long-list before it struck, NHS England figures show a record six million patients were on waiting lists for non-urgent operations and procedures in November.

Confusion over who blocked plans:

Given the significant cost implications of the plans, The Daily Telegraph reported that the Treasury had refused to sign them off. Denying this, Mr Javid said the Treasury was “an excellent partner” given his previous role in Government and “we have a great relationship”.

“There’s no issue around the money at all. It’s all about just making sure that when you publish something so ambitious and so important, we do want to make sure across government everything is agreed and everyone is behind the plan,” he said.

A government spokesperson told the BBC: “We are united in our plan to clear the NHS’s record backlog as we recover from the pandemic.”

Sajid Javid 7.2.22
Health and Care Secretary, Sajid Javid speaking to BBC Breakfast this morning.

Deputy Chief Executive of NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery said that the Treasury had asked further questions on how funding will be allocated.

Highlighting the ongoing problem of high staff absences causing significant disruption because of Omicron, health leaders have called for action “as quickly as possible”.

Chief executive of NHS Confederation, Matthew Taylor told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme expressed his frustration as the plan was agreed with NHS leaders months ago.

Highlighting the problem of patients not coming forwards during the pandemic, he said “unrealistic” targets could end up “skewing clinical priorities”.

Former Shadow Health Secretary, and now Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Jonathan Ashworth said “we need a plan and the NHS is in a desperate crisis because of years of underfunding, years of Tory failure to recruit the doctors and nurses that we need, years of Tory cuts.”

My Planned Care:

Launching later this month via NHS.UK, the Government has announced an online platform called “My Planned Care.” It aims to give patients waiting for routine surgery increased transparency about their local hospitals and information they might need while preparing for their operations. In the longer term, the Government intends for this information to become available through the NHS app.

NHS providers will be able to upload supportive information to the platform to help patients manage their conditions while they wait for treatment.

A third of on-the-day cancellations are due to people not being clinically ready for treatment, such as having a long-term condition including diabetes or high blood pressure which has not been diagnosed or properly managed.

This follows the Health and Social Care Secretary’s announcement last week on a national war on cancer with the launch of a call for evidence to inform a new 10-year plan to improve cancer care, speed up diagnosis and invest in innovative new treatments.

Final Thought:

The NHS backlog is growing and Ministers are concerned that this will become one of the key issues on doorsteps at the next election. That is why the Treasury’s intervention is causing sleepless nights for some in Whitehall.

The Treasury has been concerned for months that NHS spending is out of control and uncapped spending promises to NHS leaders is not exactly in their plan.

Today’s downgrade from an announcement on a plan on waiting lists to a website where patients can track how far down the list they are, have not been warmly received by the system. Patients need certainly about how long they will have to wait. In many cases they need to know how long they will be on painkillers given how stretched pain clinics are. NHS Providers is absolutely right to call for action and fast. The Department of Health and Treasury need to thrash out an agreement and quick – the alternative is more delay, more deaths and poorer outcomes.

It will be more than a headache for the Government at the next General Election.

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