29 May 2024

So you want to tackle waiting lists

Any incoming Government that is to tackle the backlog of elective care, must ensure that the NHS does not ‘switch-off’ elective orthopaedic services at the first signs of pressure on the system. It is now a routine expectation by patients and surgeons alike, that people on the trauma and orthopaedic waiting list – the largest of the specialties – will be the first to have elective orthopaedic procedures like joint replacement surgery cancelled whenever there are Winter or financial pressures on the NHS. These procedures are not ‘elective’ they are ‘planned essential care’ which people cannot live their lives without. Cancelling them, often at short notice, has a devastating impact on a patients’ health, wellbeing, independence and economic activity.

Office for National Statistics (ONS) data suggests that 2.8 million people aged 16-64 years were economically inactive because of long-term sickness in October to December 2023. 1 in 5 of those who have not returned to the workplace following the pandemic said they were currently on an NHS waiting list for medical treatment and DWP statistics state that 1 in 5 of those economically inactive say they have arthritis, osteoporosis or another form of MSK condition. Various commentators, including the private medical insurance industry, Bank of England and the IFS have highlighted the direct correlation between long waiting lists for people with arthritis and their ability to work which is having a detrimental impact on growing the economy.

Any initiatives taken to tackle the waiting lists must look at creative ways to increase productivity as well as providing the funding repeatedly sought by NHS England to increase the core bed base, ensure universal access to fracture liaison services as soon as possible and ensure a fit for purpose adult social care services.