MORE than five million people in England needing surgery could be stuck on waiting lists within the next two years while their well-being and chances of survival decline, health experts warned yesterday.
Documents leaked to the Health Service Journal (HSJ) show that the number of patients waiting for non-urgent operations is set to swell from 3.7 million to 5.5m unless the government takes quick action on the problem.
And the number of people waiting four months or more for surgery could double to 800,000, according to estimates by NHS Improvement.
NHS England boss Simon Stevens described the situation as a “trade-off” because priority would instead be given to keeping A&E waiting times within the four-hour target and to cancer care.
Royal College of Surgeons vice-president Ian Eardley branded the situation “devastating” and “damaging.”
Underfunding was to blame for the woeful statistics, he added.
He warned that in Wales, where the average waiting time target is around six months, a significant number of patients had died, including those who had long waits for cardiothoracic surgery.
He said the lengthy delays were “plausibly” the cause of people dying.
NHS England targets for waiting times have not been met since February 2016. Most patients are supposed to be treated within 18 weeks following referral by their GPs.
Mr Eardley said: “NHS Improvement’s estimates paint a devastating picture for patients and hammer home just how damaging deprioritising the 18-week target for planned surgery will potentially be.