One million more patients will be on the waiting list for elective care even if NHS England meets its targets, posing a ‘huge risk’ to primary care, a House of Commons committee has said.
A National Audit Office report has warned that if the NHS manages its targeted 30% increase in activity, the waiting list will be seven million in March 2025 – roughly one million more than it was in December last year.
The Public Accounts Committee’s (PAC) report, published today, said this presents a ‘huge risk’ to primary care and could force an increase in GP consultations.
This follows a major speech by health secretary Sajid Javid last week that GPs will be tasked with preventing ill health under a set of ‘radical’ new NHS reforms.
The long-awaited elective recovery plan, released last month, reiterated a goal to ‘deliver around 30% more elective activity by 2024/25 than before the pandemic, after accounting for the impact of an improved care offer through system transformation and advice and guidance’.
But the PAC report said: ‘Under a plausible scenario of 50% of missing patients returning and the NHS achieving a 30% increase in activity by 2024–25 compared with pre-pandemic levels, the National Audit Office estimates that the waiting list will be 7 million in March 2025, around one million higher than it was in December 2021.’
It added: ‘Large numbers of people waiting for so long presents a huge risk to primary care and emergency services (such as general practice and A&E) because unmet health demand can result in more GP appointments and more medical emergencies.’
PAC chair Dame Meg Hillier MP said the committee is ‘now extremely concerned’ that the Government has ‘no real plan’ to translate funding into improved patient outcomes.
She added: ‘Nor is it obvious that the Department finally understands that its biggest problem, and the only solution to all its problems, is the way it manages its greatest resource: our heroic NHS staff.
‘Exhausted and demoralised, they’ve emerged from two hellish years only to face longer and longer lists of sicker people. And this is compounded by staffing shortages in a number of professional areas.’
The NHS must ‘address longstanding workforce issues and ensure the existing workforce, including in urgent and emergency care and general practice, is well supported’, if it stands a chance of dealing with the elective backlog, the report said.
NHS England believes it will be ‘two or three years’ before there is a ‘material increase in NHS capacity’ due to the changes it envisages to elective care.
The committee recommended that NHS England and Improvement should publish projections of how the NHS workforce, including GPs, will look over the next three years, ‘so that there is transparency about the human resources that the NHS has available to deal with backlogs’.
In June, NHS England said GPs and hospitals must ‘jointly manage’ patients stuck in the backlog of care caused by the Covid pandemic.
The Government also announced that patients on the NHS elective wait list will be given online support to help them get fit for surgery and keep them up to date regarding waiting times.