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, new analysis has suggested.
Led by the Health Foundation, the analysis modelled four future scenarios to consider prospects for reducing the list by the end of 2024.
The models indicated that if there was no further strike action the list would peak at 8 million by August. If strike action were to continue, it could be 180,000 higher.
Strike action by consultants and junior doctors has so far lengthened the waiting list by around 210,000, constituting just 3% of the overall list size which totalled 7.75 million at the end of August 2023, the Health Foundation added.
The analysis also indicates that monthly referrals for treatment are now back to pre-pandemic levels.
NHS England’s elective recovery plan, published in February 2022, included the expectation that the list would be falling by March 2024.
The Health Foundation’s director of data analytics, Charles Tallack, said: ‘While industrial action has a range of impacts on NHS organisations, the strikes have only directly resulted in a small increase in the size of the overall waiting list.
‘Ministers have been quick to blame industrial action for the lack of progress in reducing the waiting list but the roots of this crisis lie in a decade of underinvestment in the NHS, a failure to address chronic staff shortages and the longstanding neglect of social care. The pandemic heaped further significant pressure on an already stressed system but waiting lists were already growing long before Covid.’
Similarly, the BMA’s chair of council, Professor Phil Banfield, said: ‘his Health Foundation analysis shows what doctors already know – they are not the ones to blame for the shameful backlog in NHS elective care.
‘For months we have been hearing ministers blame strikes for the length of the elective wating lists, which are now nearing 8 million. While there is no doubt that industrial action has had an effect on the ability to reduce waiting lists – something that could have been avoided entirely if the Government had come to the table willing to listen to doctors in the first place – it pales in comparison with a decade of failure of policy on the NHS from the top.
‘The Government needs to rethink its priorities: now is not the time to abandon patients in ideological stand-offs with the doctors who can materially improve the situation.’