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Boris: Covid backlogs ‘will go up’ before they fall


By Jess Hacker
7 October 2021

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Record-length waiting lists for NHS services, which have arisen as a result of Covid-19 pressures, will rise before they fall, the prime minister has claimed.

In his 2021 Conservative Party Conference speech, delivered yesterday (6 October), Boris Johnson noted: ‘We spent £407bn on Covid support and our debt now stands at over two trillion pounds and waiting lists will almost certainly go up before they come down.’

He added that Covid ‘Covid pushed out a great bow wave of cases’ which meant people ‘did not or could not seek help’ from the NHS.

‘And that wave is now coming back, a tide of anxiety washing into every A&E and every GP.’

The backlog for care currently sits at around 5.6 million patients, with a number of ‘missing’ patients potentially set to inflate it further.

The prime minister said that Government provision for 48 new hospitals, 50,000 more nurses, and 50 million more GP appointments, would address ‘those backlogs with real change’.

However, NHS organisations and think tanks have urged the Government to devote more funding to enable the NHS to overcome the backlogs.

No levelling up without mental health support

For mental health care alone, the Health Foundation this week estimated that the additional cost of the Covid-19 pandemic for mental health services could range from £1.6bn to £3.6bn over the next 4 years, it said: an annual average of £400m–£900m.

The charity Mind urged the Government to prioritise mental health in its upcoming spending review, after stating it was ‘disappointed’ that Mr Johnson ‘did not mention mental health’ in light of the impact Covid-19 has had on the population.

As many as 1.6 million people are on a waiting list for mental health support or treatment, while a further eight million people are yet to be added to the waiting list due to limited access to care, it said.

Mental health must be ‘at the heart’ of the pandemic recovery if the Government is to ‘level up’ the country, it said.

‘There can be no levelling up while 4.2 million families see a £20 a week cut to their financial support, which puts food on the table and provides heating through the winter,’ Vicki Nash, Mind’s head of policy, campaigns and public affairs, said.

‘Mind’s research showed that only 28 per cent of people in receipt of benefits feel hopeful about their future and are more likely to self-harm as a coping mechanism.’

Ms Nash said that the Government must ‘do the right thig’ and prioritise funding mental health in the upcoming Spending Review, set to take place Wednesday 27 October.

Financing early support hubs across England to support young people’s mental health and properly tackling waiting lists, she said.

‘The UK Government must make good on its commitment to level up by reforming social care, reducing inequalities, and preventing people from being pushed into poverty, while making sure people get the financial, social, and health support they need and deserve.’

A recent study revealed that as many as three-quarters (73%) of trust leaders are concerned that their plans to address the care backlog will be disrupted by anticipated winter pressures.

Mental health and acute trusts in particular agreed that demand for mental health services currently exceeds capacity, and were concerned a backlog of care may further exacerbate the problem.

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