New analysis shows long elective waiting lists are the fault of Government, not doctors, says BMA

by BMA media team

Press release from the BMA

Published: Friday 27 October 2023

Responding to the Health Foundation's new analysis of NHS elective waiting lists in England,1 Prof Phil Banfield, BMA chair of council, said:

“This Health Foundation analysis shows what doctors already know – they are not the ones to blame for the shameful backlog in NHS elective care. For months we have been hearing ministers blame strikes for the length of the elective wating lists, which are now nearing 8 million. While there is no doubt that industrial action has had an effect on the ability to reduce waiting lists – something that could have been avoided entirely if the Government had come to the table willing to listen to doctors in the first place – it pales in comparison with a decade of failure of policy on the NHS from the top. The Government needs to rethink its priorities: now is not the time to abandon patients in ideological stand-offs with the doctors who can materially improve the situation.

“According to this analysis, with only about half of the additions to the waiting list down to strikes, the backlog would be growing even if doctors simply accepted the repeated real terms pay cuts the Government has offered them. Instead we see that a decade of underinvestment in the workforce, a lack of capital spending, a failure to address avoidable staff shortages, and neglect of social care are the real fuel for the endless growth of these lists. Even before the strikes began, as this report points out, the NAO was warning about the delivery of the Government’s elective care recovery plan, with the capacity of the NHS in its current depleted state insufficient to meet the needs of our population. 

“These failures are not inevitable and as the Health Foundation says, history shows that with proper investment in the workforce we can eliminate the backlog. But lack of investment in the workforce has been the norm for 15 years now. This should be a “carpe diem” moment for the PM and Chancellor. They must seize the moment to demonstrate they are planning and investing for the long-term future of the UK. I appeal directly to them to unblock the obstacles that stop us getting on with treating patients. It is up to them.

“Both long waiting lists and striking doctors have the same root causes. Doctors have gone on strike precisely because it is only with a fully staffed and fully valued NHS that elective care can be put back on a path to normality. Time is rapidly running out to get credible pay offers on the table, which would both end strikes and boost the recruitment and retention the workforce needs. This would not just get long suffering patients the planned care they need, but give us a chance of getting through this winter more safely. This report is yet another reminder to Mr Sunak and Mr Hunt of the need to take immediate action.” 



Notes to editors

1. Contact the Health Foundation for the full report

The BMA is a professional association and trade union 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.