Has the NHS turned a corner? The winter crisis may be over, with pressure on the health service beginning to ease, but the pace of improvement is glacial. The latest performance figures for NHS England, published this morning, point to small improvements: waiting lists have flattened off and remain at 7.2 million; 12 hour waits for A&E finally fell; and ambulance response times have improved too.
The figures come a day after modelling by the Institute for Fiscal Studies on waiting lists suggested they will at most flatline this year before eventually beginning to fall. Under a worst-case scenario, waiting lists would keep climbing and pass 9.2 million people waiting for treatment in just over two year’s time. If treatment volumes (the number of tests and procedures carried out each month) increase and demand falls, the waiting list may peak by the middle of this year at around the current level.
Here’s everything the monthly NHS figures reveal:
1. Waiting lists grew but only slightly. They’re up back over 7.2 million after having fallen slightly in November. However only 15,000 new waits were added and the line is beginning to flatten off. Under the IFS’s model something drastic would have to change for a significant dent to be made in the lists. As things stand, tests and procedures carried out are barely keeping up with new patients joining the lists every month.
2. But strikes hit procedures. In December 35,000 appointments and treatments had to be rescheduled due to the three days of industrial action. In January another 32,500 were moved or cancelled. The strikes this week then bumped another 41,425 appointments. As a result the number of people treated by the health service fell.
3. Long waits fell slightly. The