Labour MPs got no useful answers when they challenged ministers to explain how they would cut massive waiting lists in the Midlands, with NHS data showing Birmingham with the worst waiting lists in the country.
Shadow Health Minister Andrew Gwynne highlighted the disastrous performance of the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Trust (UHB), running major hospitals across Birmingham, Solihull and Sutton Coldfield, where the latest figures show 183,000 patients were waiting for treatment in December, of whom only 38% had been waiting less than 18 weeks.
Health minister Maria Caulfield claimed Covid was to blame, and that the Government had committed funding for elective recovery. However NHS England’s recent Delivery Plan, constrained by the limits of last autumn’s spending review, accepts that waiting lists will continue to go up until 2024 – perhaps as high as nine million – and numbers waiting over a year will not be reduced until 2025.
More than a million people – around one in ten of the population – are waiting for care in the Midlands, the highest number in any region, and four other major hospital trusts (University Hospitals North Midlands, United Hospitals Lincolnshire, University Hospitals Leicester, and Worcestershire Acute Hospitals) have less than 60% of their total list waiting fewer than 18 weeks (University Hospital Coventry & Warwickshire has not published full figures).
However UHB’s performance is by far the worst. A staggering 31,000 UHB patients had waited over a year, 17% of the total waiting, compared with 15,877 in Leicester (14.5% of the total of 108,365). By contrast in Barts Health in London, with 103,000 waiting, 8,244 (8%) were waiting over a year.
Pressures on midlands hospitals have been worsened by high levels of unfilled vacancies, with almost 15,000 vacant posts in acute hospitals, a third of them for nurses, leaving one in ten acute nursing posts unfilled, along with almost one in six mental health nursing posts.
The latest government call for NHS pay to rise by just 2-3% in 2022 will do nothing to fill the gaps in staffing, or reduce waiting lists that were headed upwards before the pandemic even began.
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