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CSR: £3bn ‘stop-gap’ falls short of what NHS needs to tackle mammoth waiting list

22 Nov 2020

Commenting on reports today (Sunday) of an expected extra £3bn for the NHS in the spending review, leading surgeons called on the Chancellor of the Exchequer to go further with a ‘New Deal’ for the NHS that would help the country’s recovery.

The Royal College of Surgeons of England urged the Chancellor to deploy the same ‘verve, determination and generosity’ used to tackle COVID this year, to address the mammoth hospital waiting list that has built up through the pandemic.

Latest NHS waiting time figures [1] show:

• Nearly 140,000 patients waiting over 52 weeks in September 2020 – an increase of 107 times compared to September 2019.
• 2 in 5 patients –1.7m people – waiting more than 18 weeks for treatment in September 2020, despite a legal target that 92% should be seen within that time.
• A total waiting list of 4.35 million patients.

Pointing to the £192bn spent this year helping households, businesses, and public services with the COVID response [2] surgeons warn that the backlog of patients waiting for crucial surgery could hold back the country’s recovery.

Professor Neil Mortensen, President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England said:

“The pandemic has shown this country’s fighting spirit in the face of a crisis. The government’s response has been admirable, with billions ploughed into our health and economic defences.

“We need the Chancellor to adopt the same spirit now in tackling the backlog of operations that has built up. COVID has created a mammoth waiting list, and an alarming rise in waits of more than a year. This could hold back the country’s recovery, if we do not tackle it swiftly.

“Every patient on the waiting list has a story to tell. Many are in considerable pain, some are struggling to stay active, or at risk of losing their job. At worst their conditions deteriorate during the wait, and at best, their quality of life is seriously diminished.

“We want to see the Chancellor deploy all the verve, determination and generosity applied to the COVID crisis, to the national effort needed to sort out waiting times. An extra £3bn is really just a stop-gap when you consider the size of the task in hand. It amounts to less than 3 per cent of what the NHS receives in a ‘normal’ year.

“COVID has exposed years of under-investment in hospitals and the NHS workforce. Only a New Deal for the NHS, with substantial and sustained investment, will get us fighting fit again.”

In a formal submission to the Comprehensive Spending Review process in September [3] the College urged the Treasury to invest in a national strategy to bring down hospital wait times. This was echoed by the Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP in a letter to government earlier this month [4] in which he said the Health and Social Care Committee he chairs, “had no response to our request for a clear strategy to tackle waiting times and the huge backlog of appointments”.


Notes to editors

1. RCS England commented on and summarised the latest NHS Waiting times figures here:

2. The Institute for Government estimated spending on the COVID response at £192bn in September this year in their report The cost of COVID.

3. The Royal College of Surgeons of England’s response to the formal Comprehensive Spending Review consultation in September is available on request.


5. In 2018/19 the NHS budget for England was £114 billion,budget%20of%20%C2%A3114%20billion

6. The Royal College of Surgeons of England is a professional membership organisation and registered charity, which exists to advance surgical standards and improve patient care.

For more information, please contact the RCS Press Office:

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