Around 400,000 patients who have been waiting the longest for treatment will be offered the opportunity to travel to a different hospital to be treated sooner, NHS England has said.
From today (31 October), any patient who has been waiting longer than 40 weeks and who does not have an appointment within the next eight weeks will be contacted by their hospital.
It comes after analysis by the Health Foundation indicated that the waiting list for elective NHS care will peak at 8 million next summer if current trends continue, regardless of whether NHS strike action continues.
Patients contacted by their hospital will be asked to specify how far they are willing to travel, with the NHS then identifying alternative hospitals with capacity.
NHS England said in some cases the request will be uploaded to the NHS’s Digital Mutual Aid System, its hospital matching platform.
The NHS estimated that approximately 400,000 patients – or 5% of the overall waiting list – meet the criteria and will be contacted by their hospital.
NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard said: ‘Despite pressure and the huge disruption caused by strikes, NHS staff have made great progress in reducing the longest waits for patients – this new step to offer NHS patients who have been waiting the longest the opportunity to consider travelling for treatment is just another example of how we are introducing new approaches to reduce how long patients wait, while improving the choice and control they have over their own care.
‘Giving this extra option to these patients also demonstrates the clear benefits of a single national health service, with staff able to share capacity right across the country.
‘So, whether a patient’s care moves to the next town or somewhere further away, it is absolutely right that we make the most of available capacity across the country to continue to reduce the backlogs that have inevitably built up due to the pandemic and provide the best possible service for patients.’
Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: ‘From today, those waiting 40 weeks or more will be given more options to speed up treatment, including at hospitals with shorter waiting times or using capacity within the independent sector.’