NHS: Waiting lists could reach 8m by next summer - but report claims strikes are not to blame

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The new report suggests strikes are not as much to blame as Rishi Sunak has claimed.

NHS waiting lists could top eight million by next summer, regardless of whether medical professionals continue striking.

A new report by The Health Foundation suggests that NHS waiting lists could peak at eight million by August 2024 if there is no more strike action by healthcare workers before starting to come down. But if strikes continued, the true figure could be 180,000 higher. Earlier this month it was revealed that 7.75m people were waiting for NHS treatment as of August, the highest figure since records began in 2007. It's thought that 11m people are also sat on "hidden" waiting lists.

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Prime minister Rishi Sunak made tackling waiting lists a priority at the beginning of 2023, but the government has since blamed ongoing strikes in the NHS for making the issue more challenging. However, the report indicates that this only accounts for a small percentage of the overall figure.

There are currently 7.75m people on NHS waiting lists across the country.There are currently 7.75m people on NHS waiting lists across the country.
There are currently 7.75m people on NHS waiting lists across the country.

Charles Tallack, director of data analytics at the Health Foundation, said: “Behind these numbers are people anxious for a diagnosis, patients in avoidable pain and lives put on hold. While industrial action has a range of impacts on NHS organisations, the strikes have only directly resulted in a small increase in the size of the overall waiting list.

“Ministers have been quick to blame industrial action for the lack of progress in reducing the waiting list but the roots of this crisis lie in a decade of underinvestment in the NHS, a failure to address chronic staff shortages and the longstanding neglect of social care.”

Labour's shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting, added: "This makes clear that NHS waiting lists would be the highest in history today even without industrial action. It blows out of the water the Conservatives attempts to blame doctors and nurses for the crisis in the NHS.

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“Rishi Sunak’s failure to stop the strikes has only made a terrible situation worse, leaving even more patients waiting in pain and discomfort, unable to live their lives to the full.”

NHS strikes escalated last month with the first-ever joint walkout by junior doctors and consultants in history, which led to a second three-day spell of co-ordinated action in early October. The British Medical Association (BMA) said consultants will hold off calling more strikes until November to allow for negotiations.

They agreed to talk with ministers earlier this month, with the BMA’s junior doctors committee following suit.

The Department of Health and Social Care said cutting waiting lists “is one of the government’s top five priorities” and it is “taking action to shorten long waits, despite disruption from strikes”.

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A spokesperson added: “We are maximising all available capacity by drawing on the independent sector, as set out by our elective recovery taskforce to give patients more control over where they receive their care so they can be treated more quickly.”

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