Politics

Sajid Javid finally unveils NHS backlog plan that pledges to eliminate one-year waits for ops


WHAT’S IN THE RECOVERY PLAN? 

  • END TWO YEAR WAITS BY JULY 2022
  • END 18-MONTH WAITS BY APRIL 2023
  • END 65-WEEK WAITS BY MARCH 2024
  • END ONE YEAR WAITS BY MARCH 2025
  • 9MILLION MORE CHECKS AND TESTS BY MARCH 2025
  • ELECTIVE CARE WAITING LISTS TO COME DOWN FROM MARCH 2024
  • 75% OF URGENT CANCER REFERRALS DIAGNOSED OR RULED OUT WITHIN 28 DAYS BY MARCH 2024
  • NUMBER OF PEOPLE WAITING MORE THAN 62 DAYS FOR URGENT CANCER REFERRAL BACK TO PRE-PANDEMIC BY MARCH 2023
  • 95% OF PEOPLE RECEIVE DIAGNOSTIC TEST WITHIN SIX WEEKS BY MARCH 2025
  • 30% MORE ELECTIVE CARE BY 2024/25 THAN BEFORE THE PANDEMIC

* ALL TARGETS DEPEND ON MAINTAINING ‘LOW LEVELS OF COVID’

HOW WILL THE TARGETS BE ACHIEVED?

  • AT LEAST 100 COMMUNITY DIAGNOSTIC CENTRES OVER THE NEXT THREE YEARS
  • NEW SURGICAL HUBS ADDED TO CURRENT NETWORK OF 122
  • OFFER PATIENTS ALTERNATIVE LOCATIONS FOR TREATMENT WITH SHORTER WAITING TIMES
  • TEAM OF SPECIALISTS TO HELP PATIENTS PREPARE FOR OPERATIONS
  • CONDUCT MORE TESTS AT SAME TIME
  • GROUPS OF CLINICIANS TO GIVE INSTANT ACCESS TO TEST RESULTS
  • SEPARATE ELECTIVE AND URGENT CARE TO ENSURE ‘RESILIENCE’ OF ELECTIVE CARE DELIVERY
  • ‘STRENGTHENED RELATIONSHIP’ WITH PRIVATE SECTOR TO SPEED UP RECOVERY
  • REFORMING OUTPATIENT APPOINTMENTS
  • ONLINE PLATFORM FOR PEOPLE IN QUEUE TO GO LIVE THIS MONTH
  • NHS TO ANALYSE WAITING LIST DATA BASED ON AGE, DEPRIVATION AND ETHNICITY TO TACKLE DISPARITIES

Sajid Javid’s Covid long-awaited recovery plan for the NHS was today criticised for not being ambitious enough.

The Health Secretary today revealed the delayed £12billion-a-year blueprint for the health service and said the Government is ‘absolutely committed to tackling the Covid backlog and building a health and social care system for the long term’.

But in unveiling the plans in the Commons, he admitted the waiting list for elective care will continue to rise for another two years and one-year waits for treatment won’t be scrapped until 2025.

The recovery plan was due to be published on Monday but it was delayed at the 11th hour after reports of a row between the NHS and Treasury over ‘tough targets’ demanded by the Chancellor.

But NHS leaders praised the health service for not caving into pressure to stick to strict deadlines after Rishi Sunak was reported to have blocked the ‘half-baked’ deal.

Latest figures show more than 300,000 people have been languishing in queues for routine operations for at least a year — an almost 200-fold rise compared to the 1,600 before Covid struck. 

Running to more than 50 pages, the recovery plan promises to scrap waits of over 18 months by April 2023 and waits over 65 weeks by the following year, with ‘nobody’ waiting longer than a year by 2025.

However, the targets are predicated on ‘maintaining low levels of Covid’ and could be abandoned in the event of another serious outbreak. And there is no concrete recruitment targets over the next three years. 

Labour said it fell ‘seriously short of the scale of the challenge facing the NHS and the misery affecting millions of people stuck on’ waiting lists and criticised the lack of a plan to address staff shortages. 

The plan also drew criticism from Conservative former chief whip Mark Harper, who said the waiting times targets were not ‘ambitious enough’ for the recovery programme’s price tag.

The Society for Acute Medicine warned the programme ‘will fail’ unless the Government gets a grip on the crisis in A&Es, which is forcing the cancellation of planned operations and seeing record numbers of emergency patients take elective beds.

Mr Javid also warned he expects elective waiting lists to get worse before they get better, with around 10million ‘missing’ appointments during the pandemic as people were told to stay away from hospitals to protect the NHS.

Overall, there are already 6million people — the equivalent of one in nine — waiting for elective procedures like hip and knee operations or cataracts surgery, the highest figure since records began in August 2007. Mr Javid said the assumption was that waiting lists will start to come down in March 2024.   

The NHS will also carry out an extra 9million extra checks, tests and procedures a year by 2025, with the Government promising to make ‘greater use’ of the private sector like it did during Covid. 

There are also plans to build 100 ‘one-stop shop’ community diagnostic hubs within the next three years, with 69 already assembled. They will offer MRI and CT scans as well as blood tests and other procedures as part of the Government’s pledge to restore the pre-pandemic target of diagnosing 95 per cent of patients within six weeks.

Mr Javid said: ‘Just as we came together to tackle the virus, now we must come together in a new national mission to fight what the virus has brought with it. We are absolutely committed to tackling the Covid Backlog and building a health and social care system for the long term.’

Despite trying to secure tougher targets, it does not appear the Treasury managed to secure new concessions from the NHS. HMT sources pointed to intense ‘haggling’ over the schedule for 75 per cent of patients to receive a cancer diagnosis within 28 days, saying the issue was not resolved until yesterday afternoon.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents trusts in England, hinted that the health service had stood firm despite Treasury demands. He said the targets announced today were ‘in line with what NHS leaders were expecting’.

 

The NHS recovery plan was due to be published on Monday but it was pushed back at the 11th hour because of a row over 'tough targets' demanded by the Chancellor Rishi Sunak (pictured today), sources say

The Prime Minister had hoped to announce the plan yesterday

The NHS recovery plan was due to be published on Monday but it was pushed back at the 11th hour because of a row over ‘tough targets’ demanded by the Chancellor Rishi Sunak (pictured left, today) and the Prime Minister (right, also today)

Mr Javid announced the plan — which was developed with Royal Colleges, patient groups and health charities — in the House of Commons this afternoon.

He said: ‘Our Covid Backlog Recovery Plan will help the NHS reduce waiting times, give patients more control over their care, and harness innovative technology to free up staff time so they can care for more people up and down the country can get the treatment they need.

‘This is a vital step in radically rethinking how our health service delivers operations, treatment and checks as we look beyond the pandemic and learn to live with COVID-19.’ 

The Health Secretary said clearing the backlog will be achieved by increasing elective activity by 30 per cent by 2025, and by building new surgical hubs to add to the 122 already operating across the country.

Despite teasing radical new cancer policies last week, the recovery plan sets out an ambition to diagnose or rule out the disease in three-quarters of suspected patients within 28 days – a target first touted by Theresa May in 2019.

Under the plans, no one will have to wait longer than two months to find out if they have cancer by March 2023, an NHS pledge first made in 2009. Labour described the cancer aims as a ‘pathetic rehashing of old pledges’.

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting criticised the proposals in the Chamber this afternoon.

Speaking at the despatch box, he said the plan ‘falls seriously short of the scale of the challenge facing the NHS and the misery that is affecting millions of people stuck on record high NHS waiting lists.

‘There’s no plan to tackle the workforce crisis, no plan to deal with delayed discharges and no hope of eliminating waits of more than a year before the general election in 2024,’ Mr Streeting said.

‘The only big new idea seems to be a website that tells people they’re waiting a long time, as if they didn’t already know.’ 

Conservative Mark Harper said parts of the plan are not ‘ambitious enough’ and called on the Health Secretary to be ‘more ambitious’.

The MP for Forest of Dean said: ‘Many on this side of the House were very reluctant but did support the increase in resources for the NHS through the increase to National Insurance and then the health and social care levy, but when we are making that argument to our constituents they will expect that money to deliver results.

‘Whilst this plan is welcome, can I ask him to perhaps be more ambitious, because I think only getting to 99% of patients waiting less than a year by March 24 isn’t ambitious enough.’

Sajid Javid said Mr Harper was ‘absolutely right’ about the importance of making sure ‘every penny’ spent on the NHS is spent wisely and ‘in the very best interests of taxpayers’.

‘That does have to translate into the ambition,’ he added, noting that Mr Harper and others ‘would not have had the time yet to look at the plan’.

Mr Javid added: ‘It is full of ambition, and indeed if the NHS can go much further than the targets I set out earlier that is what we would all want to see. It does depend… on how many people come back to the NHS and that is very hard to estimate.’

The plan also drew criticism from doctors, who said that it was destined to fail unless the Government sorts out the crisis in emergency departments.  

Dr Susan Crossland, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said: ‘While we support developing plans to help reduce the backlog of patients waiting for NHS care, the announcement today from the health secretary is far from comprehensive and fails to address key issues.

‘Everyone needs to be clear that plans to reduce the backlog of elective care are inextricably linked to the urgent and emergency care system.

‘As we have stated previously, overstretched acute medical services mean that elective beds are used for emergency patients which exacerbates the problem with waiting lists and impacts those waiting for urgent investigations and surgical procedures.

‘Elective care will never function well if other parts of the service are under significant strain and we are far from finding solutions to the workforce crisis, reductions in bed capacity and delayed discharges which remain a fundamental threat to recovery.’

The Government first announced that the NHS England would receive an extra £39bn over the next three years in September as part of a new ‘Health and Social Care Levy’. The NHS in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will receive proportionately similar amounts.   

A million morbidly obese adults may get ‘miracle’ weight loss injection on NHS

Over a million morbidly obese adults will soon be eligible for weight-loss injections on the NHS, health officials announced today. 

The revolutionary once-a-week Wegovy jab — which experts believe could play a major role in combating the country’s obesity crisis — was given the green light by the drug watchdog NICE. 

Scientific studies have shown the fat-busting medicine works as well as gastric band surgery. 

One trial showed patients given the treatment lost an average of nearly two-and-a-half stone (35lbs) in little over a year, while those given a placebo lost 6lbs.

University of Liverpool researchers who led the study described the drug as a ‘game changer’.

Wegovy works by hijacking the body’s own appetite regulating system in the brain, leading to reduced hunger cravings and calorie intake. 

NICE has recommended the drug for people in England and Wales who have a BMI of 35 — making them morbidly obese, the fattest possible category — and have at least one weight-related comorbidity. 

Those with a BMI between 30 and 35 could be recommended the drug, which costs £75 a month at a lower dose for diabetics, if they have been referred for specialist help.

Wegovy, a branded version of semaglutide made by pharmaceutical giant NovoNordisk, will be prescribed alongside a reduced-calorie diet and physical exercise programme. 

The drug, which patients will be able to inject themselves, is already approved in the UK for type 2 diabetics.

Patients are told not to suddenly stop taking the drug without consulting their doctor. But some who have paid for it privately have stopped using it after seeing results within a matter of months. 

The exact price NHS England is paying for the drug is confidential, but it will be given as a 2.4mg dose for obese people — double that given to diabetics. 

A consultation on the recommendations made by the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is now open until March 1.

Medics will be asked to comment on the cost effectiveness of the medication, and the evidence of its fat-fighting effects. 

NHS England can’t make plans to rollout the drug until NICE’s final guidance is released. 

Around 12.4million adults in the UK are obese, making the country one of heaviest the world. Around 1.3million are thought to be morbidly obese.

The obesity epidemic costs the NHS £6.1billion and wider society £27billion every year, according to Government estimates.  

NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard said: ‘As we move out of the Omicron wave the NHS is applying the same determination and ‘can do’ spirit we have displayed throughout the pandemic, to address backlogs in routine care that have inevitably built up, and reduce long waits.

‘That cannot happen overnight but we are determined to make the best possible use of the additional investment and take the best from our pandemic response, including smarter use of digital care and flexible working between teams and trusts, while building this additional diagnostic capacity that will help to accelerate progress.

‘As we have always said throughout the pandemic, it is vitally important that anybody who has health needs continues to come forward, so that staff can help you with the best options for your care.’

Prime Minister, Boris Johnson described the three-year plan as the ‘biggest catch-up programme in the history of the health service’. 

‘These measures will make sure patients receive the right care, in the right place at the right time as we bust the covid backlogs and recover from the pandemic,’ he added.

Latest figures show one in nine people in England were on the NHS waiting list for routine operations by the end of November.

More than 300,000 patients had waited over a year — often in pain — for ops such as hip and knee replacements or cataracts surgery. Of them, 18,500 had queued for at least two years — seven times more than last summer.

At the same time, just two-thirds (67.5 per cent) of cancer patients were given their first treatment within two months of the disease first being detected — the lowest number ever. Only three-quarters of suspected cancer patients were referred to a specialist within the NHS two-week target, another low. 

Separate data shows total of 12,986 spent 12 or more hours in emergency departments before being treated in December — the most since records began in 2010 and up by a fifth from November. 

At the same time, just 73 per cent of A&E patients were seen within the NHS’ four-hour target, the lowest percentage ever.  Separate data shows heart attack patients waited 53 minutes on average for an ambulance to respond to their 999 call.  

The number of people in England who saw a specialist for suspected cancer in November 2021 following an urgent GP referral was higher than the pre-pandemic average as patients continued to come back to the health service after multiple lockdown cycles. 

However, the number who waited more than two weeks to see the specialist set a new record high for the third month running, soaring to more than 55,000 people in November. 

Around 28,000 waited more than a month to start treatment – the second highest ever after last September. 

People who waited more than a month to start treatment after a decision to treat was also the second highest-ever on record in November. And a record 14,900 waited more than two months.

Other NHS figures show ambulances responded to 82,000 category-one calls in December which was higher than any other month on record and the equivalent of one every 33 seconds. 

The average response time in December for ambulances dealing with the most urgent incidents – defined as calls from people with life-threatening illnesses or injuries – was nine minutes and 13 seconds.

This is just under the nine minutes and 20 seconds in October, which was the longest average response time since current records began in August 2017.

Ambulances also took an average of 53 minutes and 21 seconds to respond to emergency calls, such as heart attacks burns, epilepsy and strokes – the second longest time on record.

Response times for urgent calls – late stages of labour, non-severe burns and diabetes – averaged two hours, 51 minutes and eight seconds, again the second longest time on record.



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