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NEWS

England’s NHS to trim main healthcare wait list ahead of election

By Paul Sandle

LONDON (Reuters) -England’s health service will move about 40,000 pending child consultations for ADHD, autism and other conditions from its main waiting list, a person with direct knowledge of the change said, trimming the politically sensitive list ahead of an expected election.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, whose Conservative Party is trailing the Labour Party in opinion polls, has vowed to reduce wait times in the state-run National Health Service (NHS). He admitted last week he had not made enough progress, blaming strikes by healthcare workers.

New guidance for data collected this month, which will be published in April, says those waiting to see a specialist doctor in community services in two treatment categories should be removed from the headline “referral to treatment” (RTT) list, documents seen by Reuters show.

An NHS England source said around 40,000 cases, just under 10%, would move from the community paediatrics category, to a community data set that now numbers about 85,000. A much lower number would be moved from the main list for community medicine.

NHS England said the change would end duplication and have no impact on patient care.

The RTT list is the most visible monthly indicator of pressure on the country’s state-run NHS and routinely makes headlines.

The provision of free health care, strained by an ageing population, a lack of investment, staff shortages and the fall out from the pandemic, is a major concern for voters in an election expected this year. Opinion polls put Labour on track to end more than 13 years of Conservative rule.

One outside expert said moving cases from the scrutiny of the main list, which at 7.6 million cases in December is close to record levels, to lower profile community data could result in less funding for child services already under pressure.

“The point of having these targets and publishing data is to reduce waiting times for patients and be accountable to the public,” said Rob Findlay, director of strategic solutions at healthcare data company Insource which provides services to the NHS.

The change would cut the figure for those who had been waiting for more than 78 weeks by nearly 9%, he said, adding: “If some long-waiting services are excluded then that protection and accountability will be lost.”

NHS England said the changes would help target care.

“Consolidating reporting of community service waits will also make it easier to analyse and understand the number of patients waiting for treatment,” a spokesperson said, without commenting on the figures.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, which represents paediatricians, said it realised data needed improvements, but that the changes would not make children waiting more than a year for treatment feel better.

“Waiting times for children and young people are at record levels, and rearranging the deckchairs alone will not help them,” it said, calling for investment in staffing community services to tackle what it said were some of the longest waits.

(Reporting by Paul Sandle; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

 

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