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Labour promises £1.4 billion to cut NHS waiting list in five years

The party has pledged an extra 40,000 appointments, scans and operations each week to get the NHS ‘back on its feet’, if it wins the election

Labour has promised to invest £1.4billion to clear the NHS backlog in five years, as part of the party’s plans to get the health service ‘back on its feet’.

Opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer announced that, if elected, the party will initially focus on reducing treatment backlogs, which currently stand at 7.54 million. Their first step would be to create an additional 40,000 appointments, scans and operations each week during evenings and weekends.

Sir Keir said: ‘We will roll up our sleeves to work with NHS staff, not against them. We will stop the anxiety of wondering if an ambulance will come on time. We will bring back the family doctor. The NHS has been there for my family when we needed it. I’ll make sure it’s there for everyone.’

New figures from the NHS England revealed that the size of the waiting list for routine hospital treatment in England had not changed in March. The number of patients waiting more than 52 weeks was 309,300 in the month, increasing from 305,050 in February. The target to eliminate all waiting lists was March 2024, but has now been moved to September 2024.

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Health think tanks welcomed Labour’s commitment to cut NHS waiting lists but warn that achieving this will require a clear plan of action to tackle challenges to implementation.

Thea Stein, chief executive of the Nuffield Trust said: ‘Labour is right to focus on waiting lists, where progress has been slow and our analysis of the British Social Attitudes survey shows public concern is very high. We support the intention to spend more money on equipment, historically the victim of short-termism.’

But she warned that the estimated £1.4bn the party is proposing will ‘cover only a limited amount of extra care, not enough for a rapid or sudden improvement’.

Sara Woolnough, chief executive of the King’s Fund said: ‘Offering weekend and evening appointments for planned treatment and outpatient clinics is a good idea and has already been shown to bring down long waits in parts of the NHS.’

Ms Woolnough also welcomed the party’s commitment to increasing the number of CT and MRI scanners but said ‘it is less clear what action the party would take to achieve its goal of increased efficiency in the health service’.

‘Addressing long waits for care will need greater government focus on preventing ill health in the first place and, crucially, shifting more care outside of hospitals into the community, so that people’s conditions can be managed without the need for acute care,’ she said.