Before the pandemic hit, NHS England waiting lists were at a record high of 4.4 million. Three lockdowns later, they’ve risen to six million: an unacceptable figure for a Tory government that has spent years trying to rebrand itself as the ‘party of the NHS’. Boris Johnson’s decision to break his manifesto pledge and raise taxes was directly linked to the idea that the money would first be funnelled into the health service to fix the backlog. So can he now deliver for patients?
When Health Secretary Sajid Javid announced his ‘elective recovery plan’ in the House of Commons on Tuesday, he said that the waiting list would start shrinking by March 2024, though he stressed that the numbers will rise before then. By how much? Estimates float around, but the NHS modelling has been kept under wraps.
The Spectator has seen the models on which the recovery plans have been based. The optimistic scenario shows that, by March 2024, the waiting list would stand at 9.2 million, falling to 8.5 million by March 2025. The downside scenario shows the list peaking at 10.7 million and easing to just 10.3 million the following year.
These are pretty depressing figures, especially for ministers only now realising how little the new tax levy — a 1.25 percentage point rise for both bosses and workers — will achieve. Increasing National Insurance was a huge political gamble, sold on the premise that if the extra cash fixed the backlog, it would be worth it.
This explains the row in Whitehall this week when the time came to announce what the NHS aims to do with the extra money. With the Prime Minister weighed down by scandal, it has been easy to frame such disputes as a power struggle between ambitious politicians.