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Hospital waiting lists 'will rise above 5 million' as targets slide

Hospital waiting lists 'will rise above 5 million' as targets slide

The number of people in England forced to wait more than 18 weeks for a non-urgent operation could more than double as a result of the NHS's decision to relax the obligation on hospitals to treat 92% of them in that time, a leaked document has revealed. The possibility of the backlog rising from 370,000 in February this year to around 800,000 by March 2019 is one of several scenarios sketched out in a presentation to hospital bosses by NHS Improvement, the service's financial regulator.

Graphs in the document, obtained by the Health Service Journal, indicate that the proportion of patients being seen within 18 weeks could fall from the current 90% to about 85% and the total number of people waiting for planned hospital care for procedures such as hip and knee replacements and cataract removals rise sharply from just less than 4 million to almost 5.5 million. A "sustainable" waiting-list should have no more than 3 million people on it, it says.

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens sparked controversy in March when he announced that the 92% target was being downgraded so that hospitals could concentrate on improving their performance against other targets covering A&E care and cancer treatment. The government's policy of putting more cash into the NHS's budget by shrinking Department of Health spending on public health and medical training is likely to backfire, Stoye said. A planned £3.4bn cut in such investment from 2015-16 to 2020-21 "may also have spillover effects on the NHS if public health deteriorates (and therefore more NHS services are required) or hospitals find it hard to recruit staff".

A separate IFS briefing paper found that spending on adult social care fell by 8% in real terms, and by 13.5% per adult in England, between 2009-10 and 2015-16 because the population increased. The heaviest cuts were in the areas of greatest need, which were also the poorest parts of the country, the thinktank found.

Opposition parties seized on the findings to accuse the government of underfunding key public services. Labour's Jonathan Ashworth said: "These IFS figures lay bare the total failure of the Tories to protect patient safety by properly investing in our health and social care services. Theresa May has so far refused to say during the general election campaign whether she plans to give the NHS more than the £8bn pledged by her predecessor.


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