NHS England is set to “virtually eliminate” the list of those who have waited more than two years for treatment, the chief executive has said, as patients are given the option to be treated more quickly at hospitals in different parts of the country.
The number who have waited for two years or more to receive treatment has fallen from a peak of 22,500 in January to 6,700, after the Covid-19 pandemic caused waiting lists to mount.
People who remain on the waiting list are being asked whether they are prepared to travel to receive treatment.
People are being asked to travel for hospital treament Peter Byrne
More than 400 have agreed, with 140 booked in for surgery at a different hospital.
NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard said: “As part of the biggest and most ambitious catch-up programme in NHS history, staff are now on track to virtually eliminate two-year waiters by the end of July.
“But the NHS will not stop here, from delivering one million tests and checks through our newly rolled-out community diagnostic centres to new state-of-the-art same-day hip replacements, staff are constantly looking for new and innovative ways to treat patients quicker, especially those who have been waiting a long time.”
The NHS has said it will cover travel and accommodation costs to patients “where appropriate”.
Three patients who had been waiting to receive treatment at University Hospitals of Derby and Burton NHS Foundation Trust went on to receive treatment at Northumbria Healthcare Foundation Trust more than 100 miles away, with a further two booked in.
The NHS has said it will cover travel and accommodation costs to patients “where appropriate” Dominic Lipinski
While South West London Elective Orthopaedic Centre has treated 17 patients from the South West of England, and a further 11 are expected to receive treatment in the coming weeks.
Patients who opt to wait longer, or patients in highly-specialised areas that may require a tailored plan, however, will not necessarily have been treated by the end of July, the NHS warns.
The fall in waiting list numbers comes after the busiest ever May for emergency care, with 2.2 million A&E visits and almost 78,000 of the most urgent ambulance call-outs.
Ms Pritchard added: “One of the benefits of the NHS is that hospitals can work together to bring Covid backlogs down together and so if people can and want to be treated quicker elsewhere in the country, NHS staff are ensuring that it can happen.
“Once again, NHS staff are demonstrating the agility, resilience and compassion that shows when they are given the tools and resources they need, they deliver for our patients.”
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “The NHS is making great progress in ensuring those waiting the longest get access to vital treatment as part of our plan to bust the Covid backlogs, reducing two-year waits by two-thirds since January.
“I announced a new right to choose for patients earlier this year and some of the longest waiters are already benefiting from the offer of an alternative provider where they can be seen more quickly.
“Innovations like this are helping to tackle waiting lists and speed up access to treatment, backed by record investment, and there are over 90 community diagnostic centres delivering over one million checks and scans in the last year.”