Follow-up appointments are to be scrapped and patients moved round the country under radical plans to tackle the enormous NHS waiting list backlog, it was reported last night.
The Health Secretary Sajid Javid is understood to have ordered NHS health chiefs to come up with proposals to ease the backlog.
A review led by Sir Jim Mackey, the head of Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, will recommend that follow-up appointments after certain treatments be cut.
Instead patients will be told to only contact doctors if they experience any issues – a system known as ‘patient-initiated follow-up’, according to The Times.
The Government is also said to be considering plans to speed up non-urgent hospital care through ‘hubs’ for routine surgery separate from emergency care.
For those who face long waiting times, the option could also be given to travel further in order to get treated more quickly.
Patients can already choose where they would like to be referred to, but health bosses are reportedly considering creating ‘clearing houses’ to offer care to those who have waited too long.
Waiting lists for routine NHS care in England have snowballed since the start of the pandemic to 5.8 million.
The NHS waiting list for routine hospital treatment in England has reached 5.83million, official data revealed today marking the eleventh month in a row that the figure has hit a record high. Some 1.6million more Britons were waiting for elective surgery — such as hip and keen operations — at the end of September compared to the start of the pandemic
Despite the total A&E admissions in England being just two per cent more than one month earlier and equal to the number of people who came forward during the same month in 2019, 7,059 patients were forced to wait more than 12 hours to be seen at A&E. The record-high figure is 40 per cent more than the 5,024 forced to wait that long one month earlier. It is also five times bigger than in September 2020 and ten times more than the same month in 2019
The proportion of cancer patients starting treatment within a month has fallen to the lowest level since records began in 2009. The health service’s own standards set out that 96 per cent of people should begin treatment, such as chemotherapy and immunotherapy, within 30 days of the patient and doctor deciding to proceed with it. But in September, just 92.6 per cent of patients (25,329 out of 27,342) had their first treatment within the time frame, meaning 2,013 people were forced to wait for longer to receive life-saving care
Another way to help clear millions of people from waiting lists could be technology to enable patients to communicate with clinical staff without in-person appointments.
The NHS app, currently used for Covid vaccine certificates, could be expanded to become the first point of contact when managing care in hospitals.
An NHS leadership review will also consider if pay rises should be offered to NHS chiefs who drive down waiting times.
It is understood that Mr Javid has been consulted on the changes but is yet to formally agree to anything.
A government source told The Times: ‘The elective recovery plan is still in development, no decisions have been made and there is plenty of road still to go before anything is signed off.’
It comes as research showed thousands of heart patients could die unnecessarily because they are having to wait up to two years for life-saving scans.
The proportion of patients beginning cancer treatment within two months of an urgent GP referral — which NHS guidelines should be 85 per cent — fell to its lowest-ever level since records began more than a decade ago. Just 68 per cent of cancer sufferers start treatment within the window, meaning more than three in 10 were forced to wait for longer
A review led by Sir Jim Mackey, the head of Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, will recommend that follow-up appointments after certain treatments be cut (file photo)
NHS England data show ambulance staff had their busiest-ever October, with staff answering a record 1million calls. Staff responded to more than 82,000 life-threatening calls, 20,000 more than than in October 2019. But those who called had to wait an average of 56 seconds for an answer — seven times longer than in October last year when it took operators seven second to answer the calls. Richard Webber, of the College of Paramedics and a working paramedic, said his colleagues ‘have never before experienced anything like this at this time of the year’
Ambulance response times for the most urgent incidents, called Category 1, which includes cardiac arrests, took an average of nine minutes and 20 seconds, well above the target of seven minutes from a 999 call
Figures show the average ambulance response time to Category 2 calls, which includes strokes and other emergencies, was 53 minutes and 54 seconds in October, compared with the target time of 18 minutes. The figure is more than double the average time for the year since 2018
The enormous Covid backlog means 64,962 patients in England have been waiting longer than the six-week NHS target for heart ultrasounds, known as echocardiograms.
This ‘distressing’ waiting list is 20 times longer than the pre-pandemic list of 3,238 patients, analysis by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) shows.
They look at the structure of the heart and nearby blood vessels, and are needed to decide the best course of treatment.
But spiralling waiting lists for non-Covid care mean patients face waiting months or even years for the crucial checks – causing delays to treatment and potentially leading to death or disability. About 10,000 fewer echocardiograms are being carried out each month than before the pandemic, the BHF found.
Meanwhile, a record 275,569 patients were waiting for heart treatment or surgery at the end of September as the backlog continues to grow, latest NHS England figures show.
A cross-party group of 52 MPs and peers wrote to the Health Secretary last week, warning that delays to heart care during the pandemic have already led to 5,800 excess deaths.
The letter added: ‘Treatments like heart surgery aren’t a luxury. Long waits for diagnosis and treatment of conditions like coronary heart disease, abnormal heart rhythms and heart failure are emotionally distressing and can increase the risk of someone becoming more unwell or even dying while they wait for care.’
Heart and circulatory diseases cause one in four deaths in the UK – 160,000 each year, and about 7.6million Britons live with these diseases.
Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, associate medical director at the BHF, said: ‘We need to see a specific plan for cardiovascular care recovery focused on tackling cardiology vacancies, training more heart specialists, and using new diagnostic hubs to deliver delayed heart diagnosis and care.’ Waiting lists have snowballed since the start of the pandemic to 5.8million last week.
And health chiefs say the backlog will only grow this winter because A&E departments are ‘overwhelmed’ – some hospitals have already cancelled elective care.