Patients in the devolved nations who have been waiting long periods for NHS services could be offered alternative treatment at NHS and independent sector hospitals in England.
Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay has written to his counterparts in Scotland and Wales and officials in Northern Ireland inviting them for talks on how all four nations can collaborate to help tackle waiting lists.
The move follows publication of the Elective Recovery Taskforce’s report earlier this month and moves to strengthen patient choice, including proactively offering alternative hospitals to patients who have been waiting longer than 40 weeks for treatment.
In England, patients waiting for elective treatment have had a legal right to choice of provider since 2012, but these do not apply to patients in the devolved nations.
Barclay has offered to facilitate a ministerial working group to share how the English government plans to use patient choice to drive down waits.
‘I would also be open to considering any request from you for patients waiting for lengthy periods for treatment in Scotland and Wales to be able to choose from alternative providers in England – NHS or independent sector – in line with the approach we are taking here, and building on the existing arrangements for cross-border healthcare,’ he said.
The latest figures from NHS England show that 7.57 million patients were waiting for NHS treatment at the end of June. More than 380,000 patients had been waiting more than a year for treatment. However, progress has been made on very long waits over 78 weeks, which Barclay said had been ‘virtually eliminated’ in England.
‘Although data is not collected on the same basis across the UK, recent figures show more than 73,000 people are waiting over 77 weeks for treatment in Wales, and at least 21,600 people are waiting over 78 weeks for an outpatient, daycase or inpatient appointment in Scotland,’ he added.
However, the Welsh government said its figures include more referrals than those in England and that long waiting times have more than halved in the past year.
Scottish health minister Michael Matheson also hit back, saying: ‘Rather than attempting to involve themselves in devolved areas, the UK government would be well-served focusing on tackling the many issues in the health service south of the border.’