Responding to NHS England's publication of its Delivery plan for tackling the COVID-19 backlog of elective care, Tim Gardner, Senior Policy Fellow at the Health Foundation, said:
‘This long-anticipated NHS elective recovery plan is welcome, but the challenge is daunting. Even before the outbreak of Omicron, waiting lists reached 6 million with over 300,000 patients waiting longer than 52 weeks.
‘The plan is realistic about the scale and complexity of the challenge, particularly the unknowns of how demand will bounce back and the future path of the pandemic. It’s clear that long waits will be with us for a while to come so a commitment to help patients ‘wait well’ and prepare for surgery is welcome. Support will also be needed for services outside hospitals, including social care, to ensure they have the necessary resources to recover.
‘While today’s plan is a step forward, it needed to go further. Notably, it acknowledges the disparities between different parts of England but there is a lack of concrete and targeted action to address them. Over 1 in 10 of those waiting in Birmingham and Solihull have already waited over a year, compared to just 1 in 100 in South West London and Surrey.
‘The main factor limiting progress on addressing the elective backlog and the wider recovery is longstanding staff shortages. Failing to come forward with a long-term workforce plan will undermine efforts to bring down waiting lists and put the NHS’s recovery at risk.'
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