Image of a hospital waiting room depicting NHS waiting lists

Experts warn root causes of waiting lists must be fixed as govt rolls out choice to travel for patients

Hundreds of thousands of NHS patients are set to benefit from faster treatment, after the new policy that sees people offered the chance to travel for their treatment if they wish, come into action today.

Patients in England who have been waiting longer than 40 weeks and do not have an appointment set within the next eight weeks will be contacted by their hospital via letter, text or email.

Those waiting will be urged to submit their details and advise how far they are willing to travel for their treatment – i.e., 50 miles, 100 miles or even across the country – so the NHS can best identify a suitable alternative.

Some cases will see patient requests referred to the health service’s hospital matching platform to see if capacity in the independent sector could help.

Approximately 400,000 people are set to be eligible for the offer, which is equivalent to around 5% of the total waiting list.

                                                                      Video credit: Canva

While any support to cut waiting lists is welcome, NHS Providers’ deputy chief executive, Saffron Cordery, warned that simply giving patients more choice is not a “magic bullet” for tackling the root causes of the issues.

"Long waiting times are a symptom of years of severe workforce shortages and underinvestment in the NHS,” said Cordery.

The latest figures that show there are 125,000 vacancies across the NHS in England were also emphasised, as well as the funding uncertainty around some of the pledges set out in this year’s long-term workforce plan.

Cordery added: “And we need to see a rapid resolution of disputes behind industrial action which has disrupted vital work to cut waiting lists.”

This comes as Health Foundation analysis recently indicated that, regardless of industrial action, NHS waiting lists could reach north of eight million by summer 2024.

Health secretary Steve Barclay believes the roll-out is “the next step in our plan build a health service around patients” and builds on the introduction of community diagnostic centres, surgical hubs, and virtual wards.

Image credit: iStock

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NHE May/June 2024

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