The waiting list for hospital treatment will not start falling for two years, ministers say, despite unveiling a plan to tackle England's backlog in care.
Six million people are on a waiting list - one in nine of the population. But Health Secretary Sajid Javid said this number would probably increase, with demand expected to rise now Covid pressure was easing.
He also set out plans to reduce waiting times for cancer treatment. These include a 28-day target for cancer diagnosis by March 2024, which should have been introduced last year but was delayed by the pandemic.
The proportion of cancer patients starting treatment within 62 days would return to its pre-pandemic level by March 2023, Mr Javid said, although this would still leave it some way short of the 85% target.*
Waiting times would be cut by a 30% rise in the NHS's capacity for treatment, he said.
Crucial to this will be the establishment of a network of 160 community diagnostic centres along with surgical hubs focused on high-volume routine surgery away from major hospital sites - to increase efficiency and reduce the chance of emergency cases leading to cancellations.
Extra investment of £8bn over the next three years, funded through a national-insurance rise, will pay for these new facilities.
To free up staff time, follow-up appointments would be arranged on a case-by-case basis, rather than for all patients automatically, Mr Javid said. And a new online service, My Planned Care, will inform patients about waiting times and how to prepare for treatment.
The plan would not just "reset" the NHS to where it had been before Covid, Mr Javid said, but build on what had been learned and make it "fit for the future".
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Source: BBC News, 8 February 2022
Delivery plan for tackling the COVID-19 backlog of elective care