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NHS must treat 10% more cases to start reducing backlog

NHS must treat 10% more cases to start reducing backlog
By Jess Hacker
12 January 2024

The NHS must treat 10% more non-urgent hospital cases a month to reverse the increasing waiting list for elective care, a new study has suggested.

Even if system capacity were to increase by 30% – as NHS England’s target sets out – it would still take ‘several years’ to clear the backlog, researchers from Universities of Edinburgh and Strathclyde said.

Published in The Lancet (12 January), the research paper estimated there were 10.2 million fewer referrals made to elective care between the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic and October 2022.

They highlighted that the NHS waiting list for elective treatment increased between January 2012 and 2020 suggesting ‘a gradual service decline’ even before the pandemic.

The research paper said: ‘Even if the ambitious target of 30% increase in capacity is achieved during the next 3 years, several years (beyond the end of 2025) will be needed for the backlog to clear. Our study emphasises the need to improve health-care system resilience to ensure that the effects of any future emergencies on the provision of routine care are minimised.’

NHS England data published the same day revealed that the Covid-19 backlog has fallen for two months in a row, dropping by 95,000 individual pathways from 7.7 million in October to 7.6 million in November.

NHS England said this was due to NHS staff delivering more than 1.63 million treatments in November – the highest monthly activity on record and around 150,000 more than the same month before the pandemic.

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