Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has announced plans to slash the number of patients waiting for more than 12 months for treatment on the National Health Service, backed by an emergency package of £250 million.

Under the plans, Hunt has ordered in more than 100,000 extra procedures over the summer, including around 40,000 hospital admissions, to help address the current backlog.

This does mean that the number of patients missing the current 18-week limit for treatment will rise, he conceded, but stressed that this is temporary with targets met again by the end of the year.

In a speech this morning the health secretary noted that when the coalition came to power in 2010 there were a “shocking” 18,500 people who had been waiting over a year for treatment, a number which has since been reduced to 500. 

“But today I want to say that even 500 is too many. I want the number of people waiting more than a year for their operation to be not in the thousands, not in the hundreds, but as close to zero as possible,” he said.

NHS England has been tasked with reviewing all of these 500 cases, and working with CCGs and local hospitals to ensure that any patients who can be treated will be treated as rapidly as possible.

Buckling under pressure?

But commenting on the move, Mark Porter, Chair of British Medical Association’s Council, said while it is “right to prioritise patients who have had to wait the longest for treatment”, Hunt’s announcement “tries to wash over the fact that more patients will have to wait longer for an operation because the government, in effect, is having to ration care”.

“This is yet more evidence that the NHS is buckling under extreme pressure and that patient care is being compromised,” he warned, and called on politicians “to face up to reality” and find a solution to the £30 billion funding gap facing the health service.

“Without it, more targets will be missed, the quality of patient care will be compromised and, ultimately, the future of the NHS as we know it will be under threat,” Dr Porter said.