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NHS must treat 10% more non-urgent cases a month to reduce backlog

The NHS must treat at least 10% more non-emergency hospital cases a month if it wants to reduce the hefty backlog caused by the pandemic, according to new analysis.

From February 2020 to October 2022, the waiting list for non-urgent care in England grew by 2.6m cases – a projected 1.8m more than if the pandemic had not hit.

NHS England’s recovery plan aims to increase capacity by 30% by 2025 compared with pre-pandemic levels, but figures published on Thursday showed that the waiting list in England stood at 7.6m, down just 1.3% from the previous month.

Researchers at the Universities of Edinburgh and Strathclyde examined the number of referrals awaiting treatment between January 2012 and October 2022.

They calculated that an estimated 10.2m fewer referrals were made to elective care from the beginning of the pandemic to 31 October 2022. They then modelled how many of these missing patients might return for care to estimate the potential impact on waiting lists.

NHS trusts would have to treat more than 10% to reverse the increasing trend in waiting lists, the authors conclude. “Even if the ambitious target of 30% increase in capacity is achieved during the next three years, several years (beyond the end of 2025) will be needed for the backlog to clear.”

The research comes as NHS England monthly data published on Thursday revealed the health service is going backwards on some key targets.

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Source: The Guardian, 11 January 2024


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