‘117,000 die on waiting lists for NHS’

·4-min read
‘117,000 die on waiting lists for NHS’

An estimated 117,000 patients died last year waiting for care on the NHS, figures have revealed.

This included thousands on waiting lists at London NHS trusts, with 2,512 at Barts Health, 1,078 at King’s College hospitals and 894 at University College London hospitals.

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said the death toll was directly linked to the record number of patients waiting for non-emergency NHS care — about 6.5 million.

He told the Standard: “I think it underlines not just that we have got the highest record waiting lists in the history of the NHS but sadly this is also a matter of life and death.

“There are people who will die avoidably because the NHS couldn’t get to them in time. There will also be, I suspect, in that huge backlog a whole load of undiagnosed conditions.”

Backlogs built up during the Covid pandemic as hospitals treated thousands who were ill with the virus, forcing patients with other illnesses to wait much longer than usual for surgery or treatment.

The figures emerged via freedom of information requests to every NHS trust in England by the Labour Party. A total of 34,896 deaths were revealed by 67 trusts. Labour said that extrapolating the number across all trusts would lead to a death toll of 116,667.

This is about double the number of annual waiting list deaths before the pandemic. Across the country, only 61.7 per cent of patients start their treatment within the target 18 weeks.

By April — the most recent figures available from NHS England — the number waiting more than a year had risen to 323,093.

In London, Barts Health had 107,695 patients on its waiting list in April, Guy’s and St Thomas’ 91,421 and the Royal Free — where Mr Streeting had life-saving cancer surgery last year — 89,925.

Barking, Havering and Redbridge, which serves Mr Streeting’s Ilford North constituency, had 61,617. Hillingdon hospital, which serves Boris Johnson’s Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency, had 26,996.

Today the Health Service Journal reported that more than 10,000 people were waiting three months or longer following an urgent referral for suspected cancer.

Mr Streeting today called on Health Secretary Sajid Javid to consider three “immediate practical solutions” to cutting the backlog:

  • Preventing doctors from retiring early simply to avoid a financial hit on their pensions if they remain at work.

  • Finding junior doctor posts for the 800 medicine graduates without a job.

  • Ensuring more funds are provided by the new integrated care systems (ICSs) for social care to enable medically-fit pensioners to be discharged from hospital.

Mr Streeting said: “This isn’t a criticism of NHS staff. But it is a criticism of the fact there aren’t enough of them. We went into the pandemic with 100,000 staff shortages in the NHS. When I go around the country I ask staff: ‘What would make the biggest difference to you right now?’ Without exception, the thing that comes up time and again is: ‘We just need to know that the cavalry is coming.’”

The British Medical Association, the doctors’ union, has called for a pay rise of up to 30 per cent over five years to catch up on years of salary restraint. The NHS pay review body is due to report shortly, amid rumours it will back an increase of four to five per cent.

Mr Streeting refused to name a “fair figure” for a pay rise but said he was concerned that low pay was causing staff to quit, and that some were having to rely on food banks.

“I think we have got to do what we can to help in terms of the pay settlement, particularly for those on low incomes,” he said.

Barking, Havering and Redbridge refused to respond to the FoI request asking how many had died awaiting treatment, according to the Labour Party. The Royal Free did not reply.

Mr Streeting was transferred to the Royal Free for surgery after an “eagle-eyed” doctor spotted a tumour at his local hospital, King George, in March last year.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: "It is deeply misleading to draw a causal link between deaths and those on an NHS waiting list, as people may be waiting for a range of treatment, including routine surgery, and their deaths may be completely unrelated.

“We are putting record investment into the health service in order to bust the Covid backlogs - an extra £39 billion is going into health and care services over the next three years and we are rolling out up to 160 community diagnostic centres across the country – with 90 already open and one million scans delivered.

“The NHS is making great progress in ensuring those waiting the longest get access to vital treatment as part of our plan to bust the Covid backlogs, already reducing two-year waits by two-thirds since January.”

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