The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), the independent economic think-tank, has said in a recent comment piece that the NHS must ramp up its treatment volumes if it is to bring waiting lists back under control. As of September 2022, there were a record 7.1 million people on NHS waiting lists in England.
The IFS has forecast that the NHS waiting lists will peak at 8.7 million, before starting to fall by the end of 2023.
The NHS is taking measures to tackle the backlog, and recently launched a national rollout of fast-track cancer testing, which is expected to cut waiting times between a patient referral and specialist appointment to as little as four weeks.
NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard will say at NHS Providers annual conference in Liverpool: “GPs are already referring record numbers of patients for urgent cancer referrals, so much so that the shortfall in people coming forward for cancer checks caused by the pandemic has now been eradicated.”
She added: “This new initiative builds on that progress, supporting GPs to provide more opportunities for testing across the country for people who have vague symptoms.”
“By sending patients straight to testing, we can catch and treat more cancers at an earlier stage, helping us to deliver on our NHS Long Term plan’s ambitions to diagnose three-quarters of cancers at stages one or two when they are easier to treat. As ever, if you have a potential cancer symptom – please come forward and get checked – it could save your life”.
The Direct Access scheme will mean that almost 70,000 more people will be eligible for fast-track testing, which could lead to earlier diagnosis and more favourable outcomes.
Richard Evans, CEO of the Society of Radiographers, said: “Everyone working in health care knows that earlier diagnosis is key to improving outcomes for patients with cancer and many other conditions.
He added: “The opportunity for primary care clinicians to refer cases that have concerning features directly for imaging could help to achieve an earlier diagnosis for many people and this has to be a good thing. It’s important that the growth in workforce is prioritised in order to support initiatives such as this”.
Louise Ansari, National Director of Healthwatch England, said: “People tell us that when they experience unnerving symptoms they need quicker and easier access to diagnostic tests to either give them reassurance that nothing is wrong or spot problems early so they can have a treatment plan put in place.”
The NHS reports that record numbers of patients are being referred for cancer checks, and that the organisation is committed to diagnosing three out four cancers in the early stages by 2028.
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