Waiting lists will start to fall only from the middle of next year because hospitals are failing to deliver on operations and appointments, a report warns.
Analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) suggests the number of patients waiting for care will ‘more or less flatline’ for the next 12 months.
This threatens to leave patients in agony for longer than necessary and undermine government and NHS England targets, it adds.
It comes as a blow to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who has made reducing NHS waiting lists one of his key priorities for 2023.
Analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) suggests the number of patients waiting for care will ‘more or less flatline’ for the next 12 months
There are 7.2 million people on NHS waiting lists in England, the equivalent of around one in eight of the population.
The IFS said some progress has been made in cutting the longest waits, but plans to cut the overall list and substantially increase the number of people getting help are unlikely to happen soon.
Tim Mitchell, vice-president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, warned it could take years to bring down waiting lists unless the Government ‘moves fast’ to increase capacity, commits to extra funding and delivers on its workforce plan.
Health leaders say ongoing strikes by nurses, ambulance workers and physiotherapists will further hamper efforts to tackle the coronavirus pandemic backlog.
The IFS found the number of patients waiting more than two years fell by 94 per cent between February and November last year. But it said the number waiting 18 months to two years grew by 7 per cent up to September.
Those waiting between 1.25 and 1.5 years increased from 86,000 in February 2022 to 115,300 in September 2022, and patients on lists of more than a year rose from 300,000 in February to 410,000 in November.
‘Our central expectation is that waiting lists will more or less flatline over the next year, and fall only gradually from mid-2024,’ it said.