Public blames Government for 7.7m-long waiting lists in England, finds survey 

by BMA media team

Press release from the BMA

Published: Monday 2 October 2023
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As doctors in England begin the longest period of combined industrial action by consultants and junior doctors yet, new survey findings show that Government attempts to blame medics for cripplingly long waiting lists have not convinced the public. 42% of the public blame the Government for the increase in waiting lists for elective treatment, which have risen from 2.6 million in 2010 to almost 7.7 million in 2023. This is almost three times the number who blame striking doctors (15%). 
Especially concerning for the Government as it heads into its annual conference will be the finding that more than a fifth of 2019 Conservative voters (22%) blame it for the current dire situation of waiting lists in England. The Prime Minister has repeatedly used striking doctors as scapegoats for his failure to bring down waiting lists, one of his five pledges for 2023. However, with waiting lists having increased by 5 million in the 13 years of this Government, the public’s patience for such excuses is clearly limited. 
Ahead of the joint junior doctor and consultant rally outside the Conservative party conference in Manchester this week, BMA chair of council Prof Phil Banfield said: 
“Doctors are fed up of being told we are the problem with the NHS. Wanting to be valued for our expertise the same as we were in 2008 is not a radical demand: in fact, it is essential to having the workforce needed to bring down waiting times. It is not fair for the Government to continue to blame doctors or other healthcare workers for their own failure to properly resource the health service in England. What we see today is that the public largely sees through that excuse: many more appointments and operations are cancelled outside the strike days because of a shortage of beds, staff or operating capacity due to the relative chronic underfunding. 
"As the party in government for the last 13 years they need to use this year’s conference to look back at their record and consider there might be an alternative to policies that have led to millions more on waiting lists and an NHS on its knees. We will be there to help suggest a better way – one that values doctors properly.   
“We don’t want to be on strike, we don’t want to have to protest at party conferences, but we do want doctors to be recognised as the highly skilled practitioners of medicine that they are. We want to be serving our patients. But without the staffing levels, pay and conditions that lead to doctor retention, the cost and consequences of waiting lists will continue to get worse and worse; we feel that we have no choice but to take this action, because this Government has ignored doctors and patients for so long. 
“We need a demonstrable drastic change in attitude from Government – no more excuses, no more reckless ultimatums, and no more empty words. If Mr Sunak and Mr Barclay simply come outside and meet us with a credible offer, we can start finding a solution that ends these strikes right there and then.”   

Notes to editors

Notes to editors  
The survey was conducted by Walnut Unlimited on behalf of the BMA between the 12th and 14th September 2023. The survey was conducted online, interviewing a nationally representative sample of 1765 of adults in England (aged 18+).   
Q13. Since 2010, the number of people waiting for treatment in England has risen from 2.4 million to over 7.6 million in 2023. 0.36 million patients have been added to waiting lists since industrial action by doctors began in March 2023. Taking all of this into account, who do you believe is most to blame for high waiting lists? 
The Government:   738 (42%) 
The doctors who are striking:      257 (15%) 
Both equally:      602 (35%) 
Other:   39 (2%) 
Don't know:  102 (6%) 
625 respondents reported voting for the Conservatives in 2019 of whom 132 (22%) responded “the Government”   
More information on the staffing crisis in the NHS can be found here  
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