Published by BBC NEWS - 7th February 2022

Patient having surgery

Image source, Getty Images

A plan to tackle the backlog of patients on hospital waiting lists in England has been put on hold.

Details of the NHS England scheme were expected to be published on Monday but that has been paused after reports of a last minute intervention by Whitehall.

However, the government has announced a new online service that will allow people needing non-urgent surgery to get information about waiting times.

It is not clear when the full plan will now be published.

A record six million patients were on waiting lists for non-urgent operations and procedures in England in November, with the suspension of routine surgery at times during the pandemic adding to pressures which were already clear before it began.

NHS England has drawn up a wide-ranging plan to tackle the backlog and it was widely expected to be published on Monday.

It is believed this was supported across government but its understood that because of a late intervention much of the plan has been put on hold.

The Treasury has not commented on reports in the Daily Telegraph that it wanted a delay in publication.

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What has been announced is an online platform called My Planned Care, which will be launched later this month, to give patients waiting for routine surgery increased transparency about their local hospitals and information they might need while preparing for their operations.

There will also be advice on prevention services, such as how to stop smoking and exercise plans, to make sure people are fit for surgery.

A third of on-the-day cancellations of operations were due to people not being clinically ready for treatment, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.

The platform will initially be available through the NHS website but it is expected it will become available through the NHS app in the future.

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Analysis box by Hugh Pym, health editor

Tackling the backlog of non-urgent operations in England is seen as a key priority by ministers.

With that in mind the chancellor announced his spending plans for the NHS last autumn and the increase in national insurance contributions to cover extra funding.

NHS England has drawn up a detailed plan for carrying out more operations and making the process more efficient.

Officials want to publish it as soon as they can, having got what was understood to be backing from Downing Street.

But over the weekend it seems there was an intervention from one part of Whitehall and full publication was stalled.

Now one section of the blueprint has been released, but there is a lot more still to come.

It is not clear when the full plan will be published or why, given the urgency of the issue, one section of government would want to hold it back.

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Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the My Planned Care platform, alongside funding, would help “ensure access to life changing care and support for people no matter who they are or where they live”.

“At the height of the pandemic the NHS rightly focused on treating Covid-19 patients, but sadly it has meant waiting lists have risen – and the Covid backlog is going to keep rising,” he said.

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers – which represents health trusts, said staff would be “going flat out to meet the challenges presented by long waits”.

He said the platform was designed to improve information for patients ahead of treatment and reduce cancellations.

“The publication of full details of this plan, which trust leaders have helped create and expect shortly, will be a key moment for the NHS,” he said.

“Trusts will do all they can to deliver the plan and get through their backlogs as quickly as possible.”

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