A study part-funded by Sarcoma UK has found that NHS waiting times for elective procedures are likely to triple by 2030 unless action is taken.
The researchers, based at the University of Birmingham, estimate that at least £9.2 billion is needed to clear the current backlog of 4.3 million people on the waiting list for elective procedures, which could grow to over 16 million by 2030. Elective procedures are planned operations and diagnostic tests, which are more complex to plan and deliver due to the multidisciplinary expert teams and specially equipped facilities required.
The findings also show that there are 3.3 million people on a ‘hidden’ waiting list. These are people who need elective procedures but may not have come forward or able to access treatment due to COVID, which could have knock on effects such as a delayed diagnosis or treatment.
The researchers also suggest that the variation in waiting times across the country, and rising economic impact will also inevitably lead to longer waiting lists for surgeries. The region with the greatest need for elective procedures is Greater Manchester.
The analysis was conducted as part of the COVID-Surg project, part-funded by Sarcoma UK, which aimed to explore the impacts of COVID-19 on surgery. This waiting list analysis was based on publicly available hospital activity as well as waiting list data.
The researchers say that investment is needed to increase the frontline workforce, and prioritising procedures which don’t need overnight stays, such as hernia repair and cataract surgery, would reduce the current backlog.
Report co-author, Mr. Aneel Bhangu, from the University of Birmingham, says:
Tackling the rapidly increasing need requires substantial capital investment in additional facilities, staff, and training, on top of the figure that we have calculated. The NHS is open for business with staff are working harder than ever. GPs are conducting more consultations than before the pandemic, and surgical teams around the country are developing innovative solutions. Elective procedures are prioritised for patients with the most serious conditions, so we encourage anyone with worrying symptoms to seek medical help.
Last month, Sarcoma UK joined forces with more than fifty other cancer charities to ensure the government’s 10 Year Cancer Plan will tackle waiting times and increase investment in the NHS’ cancer workforce, to ensure people affected by sarcoma and other cancers get the care they need.