NHS op waiting figures spark calls for more investment

The announcement of figures showing increasing numbers of people waiting for operations is a “symbolic moment” for the under-pressure NHS, according to a leading think tank.

Latest figures from NHS England show more than four million people were waiting for operations in June – a figure last seen in 2007.

While NHS England said the rise is because of growing demand and the NHS performing procedures, commentators said the figures indicated the increasing strain on the health service.

Overall the NHS in England is failing to meet a target to operate on 92% of people within 18 weeks.

And since June last year, there has been an increase of more than 21% in the numbers waiting longer than 18 weeks, to 373,182.

Responding to the figures, Richard Murray, director of policy at the King’s Fund, said: ‘The fact that there are now more than four million people waiting for treatment is a symbolic moment for the NHS. While what matters most for patients is how long they wait, taken together with the fact that the NHS has missed the waiting times standard for more than a year, these statistics show once again that it is unrealistic to expect the NHS to continue to be able to offer the same standards of care within the current budget.”

Murray cited figures showing that the slide in performance of A&E departments appears to have halted, with 90.3% of patients seen within four hours in all A&E departments in July.

This compares with January, when 85.3% of patients had to wait for longer than four hours.

Murray said: “The NHS seems to have checked the rise in people waiting more than four hours at A&E, and now seems to have a realistic chance of meeting the aim of 90% of people waiting less than four hours by September.”

However, Murray conceded that the biggest test for A&Es will come in winter.

The British Medical Association repeated its call for further investment in the NHS. Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said: “The NHS has reached this point because investment in our health service simply has not kept up with demand and trails behind that of comparative nations in Europe.”

And Danny Mortimer, deputy chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents health organisations in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and chief executive of NHS Employers, also called for more investment.

Mortimer added that the government must better communicate the value of its healthcare reforms to the public.

“In many areas of the country, authentic attempts to create services based on new models of care can be misconstrued as thoughtless cuts.”

“Politicians must be willing to engage with the NHS, local government and local communities in helping to reshape local services,” he warned.

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