Surgeons warn that without more resources, the NHS backlog will persist

Surgeons are warning that the NHS backlog will not be cleared without more staff, operating theatres and surgical beds.

As we enter winter, patients left to wait months and months for treatment may see their health deteriorate further, as a result of NHS waiting lists rising again, the Royal College of Surgeons has warned.

NHS performance data (published on 9 November) shows the waiting list for NHS consultant-led hospital treatment continues to break records. There were 7.8 million people on the waiting list at the end of September 2023. Patients will be waiting for treatment ranging from hip replacements to surgery to remove cancerous tumours. 

Professor Vivien Lees, Vice President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said: “NHS England’s plan to give patients waiting longest for treatment the choice of travelling to a different hospital, if it means being seen sooner, will play a small part in reducing some of the strain on the system.           

“However, we must not forget that we need more staff, operating theatres and surgical beds, in order to clear the backlog properly.  Winter pressures have already started to affect the system. We are concerned that with increased demand, record staff vacancies and industrial action, this will all continue to hold back recovery efforts.  

“NHS staff continue to work hard to reduce waiting lists but many are burnt out. The focus must turn to retaining and investing in our workforce. Providing a supportive, well-resourced working environment is vital to reducing burnout. By supporting staff and providing the resources they need to do their jobs, we can begin to reduce waiting times.”  

Professor Lees added: “To tackle waiting lists in a meaningful and sustainable way, we need transformative solutions. The government must continue to fund surgical hubs in areas that are struggling to bring down long waits for operations. These are physically separated from emergency services in hospitals and would allow surgeons to operate more efficiently. There has been good progress in implementing these, but we’d like to see a surgical hub in every area of the country, prioritising those facing the longest waiting lists.”

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