NHS England has said it intends to open more than new 50 new surgical hubs to help bust the Covid-19 backlogs, which hit more than 6.5 million earlier in the summer.
The move, announced by health and social care secretary Steve Barclay, follows figures earlier this month that showed 24-month waits for scans, checks and surgical procedures had fallen markedly. However, the number of people in May who had been waiting more than a year for treatment was still more than 330,000.
These hubs will provide at least 100 more operating theatres and more than 1,000 extra beds, NHS England said.
The intention is to reduce waiting lists over the next three years, with more than 200,000 extra procedures during 2022 to 2023, over 700,000 in 2023 to 2024, and one million extra by 2024 to 2025.
The hubs, which will be located on existing hospital sites, will focus mainly on providing high-volume low-complexity surgery, with particular emphasis on ophthalmology, general surgery, trauma and orthopaedics (including spinal surgery), gynaecology, ear nose and throat, and urology.
Barclay said: “Surgical hubs are a really tangible example of how we are already innovating and expanding capacity to fill surgical gaps right across the country, to boost the number of operations and reduce waiting times for vital procedures.”
Post-Covid NHS waits
The hubs are being funded as part of £1.5bn allocated at last autumn’s Spending Review, with existing hubs also being upgraded.
Warning for new PM
However, with the announcement of a new prime minister due on Monday – widely expected to be Liz Truss – there have been warnings that, whoever makes it to No 10, will inherit a health system ‘in steady crisis’.
The health think-tank The King’s Fund has warned this autumn and winter is likely to be intensely challenging for the service.
Chief executive Richard Murray said: “Not long after Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak enters 10 Downing Street, winter will really start to bite and without urgent action we can expect ambulance delays to get even longer and more and more people to be stuck waiting in overcrowded A&E departments.
“The pressure on hospitals is symptomatic of pressure right across the health and care system. At the end of July, 13,014 people were still in hospital beds despite being medically fit to be discharged, often due to a lack of available social care support. The challenges affecting the NHS cannot be solved without addressing the issues in social care.”
Although the near-eradication of two-year waits was “a faint glimmer of light”, significantly reducing one-year to 18-month waits would still be challenging, Murray warned.
“Ensuring patients can access the care they need will require urgent and sustained action. If the next prime minister fails to prioritise action to shore up health and care services, they can expect the NHS and social care to slide even deeper into crisis,” he added.