Health Secretary told to cut elective surgery waiting lists

A coalition of leading health bodies have written to the Health and Social Care Secretary, calling on the government to prioritise cutting elective surgery waiting times.

In a letter to Health Secretary Matt Hancock, signed by the NHS Partners Network (NHSPN), the Royal College of Surgeons, the Patients Association and the British Orthopaedic Association, the organisations said: ‘We [urge you] to ensure that additional investment for the NHS is used to cut waiting times for patients, particularly as experience from previous governments, notably in the early 2000s, has shown that investment in elective care can significantly improve patient’s access to treatment.’

According to a poll of 2,060 people commissioned by the NHSPN, seven in ten think keeping elective procedures such as hip and knee operations within the 18-week target should be a priority within the NHS if it receives more funding.

The referral to treatment (RTT) target has been missed every month for the past two and a half years, with over 530,000 people kept waiting over the target following a GP referral, the latest NHS figures show.

According to the poll, over half of British adults said they would be unwilling to pay more tax for the NHS if waiting times for non-urgent treatments were extended.

The organisations said: ‘The [18-week] standard was introduced in recognition of the fact that a lack of timely access to treatment such as hip and knee operations or cataracts can lead to a significant deterioration in a patient’s condition, including the development of more severe medical complications which have both health and financial costs.’

With the government working on the NHS ten-year plan, now is the right time to ‘reconfirm the critical importance’ of access to the RTT standard, the bodies said.

On current trajectories, the NHSPN estimates that the number of people expected to be waiting over 18 weeks for elective surgery will reach one million by 2024, coinciding with the end of the five-year funding period for the health service announced by the Prime Minister in June.

David Hare, chief executive of the NHSPN, said: ‘[The] poll demonstrates just how much the public values accessing fast and effective NHS treatment. But too many people are currently subject to unacceptably long waits for procedures.

‘We are therefore calling on the government to acknowledge the critical importance of shorter NHS waiting times for patients and to ensure that the ten-year plan delivers the improvements that the public tell us that they need to see.

‘With the announcement of more money for the health service earlier this year, patients will rightly be expecting to receive much better access to vital NHS care and the government must move quickly to getting the NHS back on track to meet the 18-week target.’