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Labour pledges to clear NHS elective backlog within five years

Labour pledges to clear NHS elective backlog within five years

The Labour Party has pledged to eradicate elective waits over 18 weeks within five years, if they are elected on 4 July.

A Labour government would invest £1.3bn to reduce hospital waiting times, via a doubling of the number of scanners; paying NHS staff to work evenings and weekends; as well as funding private surgeries.

Without giving any further detail, the party also said it would ‘reform’ the NHS ‘to get more out of the service for what we put in’.

It quoted NHS trust data which suggested a ‘record’ 148,000 people died last year while waiting for NHS care. This was more than double 2017/18, when the figure stood at around 60,000 and higher than at the midst of the Covid pandemic (see box).

According to the NHS Constitution, patients should receive treatment within a maximum wait of 18 weeks but the party pointed out this target has been missed every month since February 2016.

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: ‘Only Labour has a plan to get the NHS back on its feet, so it is there for us when we need it once again.

‘Our first step will deliver 40,000 extra appointments at evenings and weekends, paid for by clamping down on tax dodgers and closing non-dom loopholes.’

Responding to the plans, executive director of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in England, Patricia Marquis, said: ‘Nursing staff will be pleased to hear a commitment to bring down waiting lists. They want the best for their patients and expect politicians to want the same.

‘Across NHS settings, nursing staff provide the vast majority of care but we’re missing tens of thousands. Labour’s plan to tackle the backlog is urgent and necessary, but it cannot simply rely on asking an already burnt-out workforce to do more with less.’

She added: ‘For Labour’s promised historic expansion of the NHS workforce, we need more detail.’

Sarah Woolnough, chief executive of leading health think-tank the King’s Fund, said: ‘Long waits for care have been brought down before, but it takes time. It wasn’t until 2008 that the last Labour government got waiting times within the target.

‘Clearing the backlog within five years would take real effort and focus and may mean other ambitions in health and care will be slower to realise.’

Although ‘offering weekend and evening appointments for planned treatment and outpatient clinics is a good idea’, scaling it up ‘will rely on having enough NHS staff to take on the extra shifts; not a given when so many report high levels of stress and burn out,’ she said.

And ‘achieving this ambition to eradicate the backlog within five years would almost certainly require a swift resolution to ongoing industrial action,’ she added.

‘Labour’s commitment to increase the number of CT and MRI scanners is welcome, but it is less clear what action the party would take to achieve its goal of increased efficiency in the health service.’

To date, Labour has not been entirely clear on its plans for general practice if it comes into government.

Its suggestions have included a shake-up of GP services to create new ‘neighbourhood health centres’, seemingly resembling the old Darzi centres.

This followed an apparent U-turn from the shadow health secretary regarding the GP partnership model.

At the beginning of last year, he had said Labour would ‘tear up’ the ‘murky, opaque’ GP contract, while considering abolishing the GP partnership model in favour of a salaried service.

However in October Mr Streeting said his comments had been ‘misinterpreted’ and he does ‘value’ GP partners.

Labour’s elective waits data in full


An FOI request by the Labour Party to every NHS trust in England received 80 responses out of 169 acute and community trusts.


The total number of deaths from those who responded was 61,396 deaths, which when extrapolated out to all trusts would be 148,227 deaths.


In 2017/18 around 60,000 patients died while on NHS waiting lists, and around 38,000 in 2012/13.


An FOI from the Labour Party found that 117,000 patients died while on NHS waiting lists in 2021.

The number of patients waiting longer than 18 weeks today stands at 3.2 million, almost half of the total waiting list, with more than 300,000 patients having waited more than a year.


Source: Labour

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