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Ministers and NHS bosses clash over surgery waiting list targets in England

A “very tense” behind-the-scenes row over how quickly hospitals in England can be expected to reduce the massive backlog of surgery has broken out between NHS bosses and ministers.

The dispute has delayed publication of the government’s “elective recovery plan”, which Downing Street had indicated would be part of Boris Johnson’s “Operation Red Meat” political fightback this week.

No 10, the Treasury and Department of Health and Social Care are pressing NHS England to ensure that hospitals do as many operations as they can, as quickly as possible, in order to tackle the backlog, which now stands at a record 6 million patients.

They want to impose “stretching and demanding” targets on hospitals, sources with knowledge of the discussions said.

However, NHS trust bosses say the ongoing impact of treating patients sick with Covid, due to the current Omicron surge, longstanding gaps in their workforce, exhaustion at the frontline and record levels of staff sickness, mean they need time to get back to doing as much surgery as they did before the pandemic.

The Treasury is said to be frustrated with NHS England and privately believes it is “foot-dragging” over the targets. NHS bosses for their part fear the plan is being driven by “political expediency”, given the growing concern at the sheer number of people facing long delays for care.

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Source: The Guardian, 20 January 2022


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