Government must address ‘unacceptable and growing’ NHS backlog, says BMA in response to NAO report

by BMA media team

Press release from the BMA.

Location: England
Last reviewed: 1 December 2021

Responding to a report by the National Audit Office on the NHS backlog and waiting times in England today, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said: “This report lays bare the impact of the pandemic on non-Covid care, the resulting backlog and needless suffering that thousands of patients are now enduring as a result of the current delays in our health service.

“The NHS went into the pandemic woefully underprepared, understaffed and with inadequate capacity – meaning services across the system were forced to suspend all but the most urgent work. By the BMA’s estimates this meant that there were almost four million fewer elective procedures and 27.22 million fewer outpatient attendances between April 2020 and September this year.

“Cancer care was already facing huge challenges before the pandemic, with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development ranking England the lowest among 23 countries for the number of CT scanners per 10,000 of the population and third lowest for number of MRIs. Our public health services, which improve population health and prevent cancers, have suffered hundreds of millions in cuts over the last ten years.

“This is an unacceptable situation and must act as a wake-up call to Government to start giving the NHS the support, resources and capacity it needs before more people endure more untold pain and distress. The backlog is growing day-by-day and tackling it is now long overdue – but staff are exhausted and therefore there must be honesty from politicians around the situation we’re in.

“For GPs, they are working as hard as they can to meet patient demand, being deluged with patient queries about their hospital waits and appointments, and are delivering more appointments than before the pandemic. 

“The truth is that we need help – something the BMA has been calling for long before the pandemic even began and most recently in our Weathering the Storm report. In England, almost 100,000 posts stood vacant in secondary care alone at the end of September. Retention must be prioritised by investing in improving the wellbeing of all staff, pausing any new initiatives that do not directly contribute to overcoming winter pressures, and addressing punitive tax and pensions rules, which lead to some doctors reducing their hours or leaving the NHS altogether. 

“The Government said at the start of this crisis that it would give the NHS ‘whatever it needs’, and this must be realised as soon as possible to ensure everyone gets the timely care they need and deserve.”


Notes to editors

The BMA is a trade union and professional association representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.