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NHS waiting lists to reach record high by 2024, warns Health Foundation

Prime Minister to face challenges as NHS backlog is expected to reach 8 million next summer

The Prime Minister’s pledge to bring NHS waiting lists down is ‘unlikely’, according to a new report from the Health Foundation. Rishi Sunak vowed in January 2023 that ‘NHS waiting lists will fall and people will get care more quickly.’ But the report predicts that the waiting list for hospital treatment in England will continue to rise for at least 10 months and ultimately top 8 million.

Charles Tallack, director of data analytics at the Health Foundation said that strikes, underinvestment, staff shortages and the neglect of social care by the Government had all contributed to the rise. Meeting the pledge ‘will be very challenging and will require sustained focus, policy action and investment’ by the Government, he said.

The analysis indicates that the number of completed treatments would need to grow by 10.4 per cent a year for the waiting list to fall to 7.2 million – the same level as when the Prime Minister made his pledge – by the end of 2024.

The analysis notes that efforts to reduce the waiting list could also be disrupted by a new wave of COVID, a bad winter flu season or cutbacks to hospital care as a result of financial pressures.

The Health Foundation says NHS work has ramped up to see more patients and clear the backlog, which is a ‘positive’ sign. It struck a hopeful note too, to say that with the right will from government, the targets could be met.

'Eliminating the backlog for elective care and returning waiting times to 18 weeks is entirely possible - it was done in the early 2000s and it can be done again,’ said Mr Tallack.