Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said cutting NHS waiting lists will be one of his five key priorities for 2023.
Pledging to improve life in the UK, Mr Sunak used a speech in London to suggest opening up the state-run health system, currently overwhelmed by lengthy waiting lists, to independent provision as part of his bid to reform the NHS.
This would cut the seven million-strong waiting lists for hospital treatment and reduce long delays in emergency care while preserving the free nature of the service.
The Prime Minister said “the biggest problem” the NHS is facing this winter is the 13,000 patients in wards who do not need to be there but rather “ideally should be back in their communities or in social care”.
The issue is a key barrier in the “flow” of patients from ambulances through hospitals, he said, and pointed to the government’s £500 million package for “early discharge” to help get patients into community care as a way in which his administration is addressing the problems in the health service.
Matthew Taylor chief executive of the NHS Confederation said:
“NHS leaders are telling us daily that the pressures their staff are facing are becoming truly unbearable so they will be questioning whether the Prime Minister and his government, given how this – worst on record – winter crisis is unfolding before us, have truly understood the sheer scale of demand versus the capacity of the health service to deliver against it.
“The Prime Minster cannot afford to simply wish this crisis away. We need clear leadership from across government over a sustained period. But our starting point has to be to acknowledge the problem otherwise we cannot possibly begin to solve it.
“The reality is that we are seeing delays that haven’t been experienced for decades. Some patients are routinely waiting over an hour for an ambulance, some are waiting for days in corridors for a bed on a ward, and around 12,000 patients are currently stuck in hospital much longer than they need to because of a lack of social care support.
“The reality is also that this situation has been a decade or more in the making and we are now paying the very high price for years of inaction and managed decline.
“We now urgently need the the government to do all it can to negotiate a swift end to the industrial dispute that is exacerbating the problems faced by local health services.
“However, we also need it to finally deliver on its promises of a workforce plan, with the NHS currently dogged by over 130,000 staff vacancies this cannot come soon enough. The health service hasn’t been able to employ enough staff for more than a decade and successive governments have failed to fund more training places to ensure we can expand the NHS workforce to resolve the capacity issues we are facing.
“The government must also seek to fully address the 160,000 vacancies in social care which also have a direct impact on the NHS, not least compounding the delays in discharging people ready to leave hospital back into the community as quickly as possible.
“The government must now to commit to do everything within its power to address the gap between capacity and demand and to prevent the NHS from entering the next winter in this same fragile state that has sadly become the norm.”