Government launches new Elective Recovery Taskforce to bust the Covid backlogs

Patients will benefit from quicker access to treatment and lifesaving diagnostic tests close to home following the launch of a new Elective Recovery Taskforce and approval of 19 new one stop shops for tests, checks and scans, the Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay announced today.

The NHS has made progress in tackling the Covid backlogs, virtually eliminating waits of over two years for treatment - the first target in the Elective Recovery Plan - and reducing the number of people waiting 18 months for treatment by almost 60% in one year.

The taskforce will help deliver on the remaining targets, including eliminating 18-month waits by April 2023 and waits of longer than a year by March 2025.  

The launch comes as the Health and Social Care Secretary announced the locations of 19 new Community Diagnostic Centres (CDCs) across the country which will help more people to easily access life-saving checks, tests and scans - and follows record investment into health and social care with the Autumn Statement committing up to an additional £8 billion for health and social care in 2024/25.

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said:

The NHS is facing an unprecedented challenge to tackle covid backlogs.

Hardworking staff have made strong progress but I want to turbocharge our current plans to bust the backlog and help patients get the treatment they need.

The taskforce will look at sensible steps to utilise all existing capacity to slash waiting lists while ensuring the NHS always remains free at the point of use."

The taskforce, which will meet for the first time at Downing Street today, will be chaired by Health Minister Will Quince and made up of academics and experts from the NHS and independent sector to advise the government on ways to turbocharge NHS recovery from the pandemic, reduce waiting times for patients and eliminate waits for routine care of over a year by 2025.

Experts will focus on how the NHS can utilize existing capacity in independent sector to cut the backlog. The independent sector has been used to bolster NHS capacity and ease pressure at critical times for nearly two decades, delivering over 450,000 appointments in October alone, approximately 6% of NHS care. Commissioning of independent sector services by the NHS uses existing budgets and comes at no extra cost to the NHS, delivering value for taxpayer money.

The taskforce will bring together a group of experts to work on a series of recommendations which will be put to the government early next year on how the NHS can better commission the independent sector, supporting the NHS as it pulls out all the stops to tackle the Covid backlogs.

Specialties including ophthalmology and knee and hip replacements have led the way with successful collaboration with the independent sector meaning patients can return to their normal lives faster.

The taskforce will look to improve communication and collaboration between the NHS and independent sector, clearly setting out what theatres, beds and other settings (such as outpatients) are available in the independent sector. Maximizing use of all additional capacity will support patients and ensure the NHS always remains free at the point of use.

Minister for Health Will Quince said:

We are relentlessly focussed on tackling waiting lists and busting the Covid backlogs and this new taskforce will bring together experts from across the healthcare system.

Doing so will ensure we're using all the capacity available to us to improve care across the NHS and independent sector, and give patients more autonomy over when and where they are treated."

NHS England National Director of Elective Recovery Sir James Mackey said:

NHS staff are working incredibly hard to tackle the Covid backlog at a time of immense pressure on the health service with significant progress already made - virtually eliminating two year waits for care - and it's vital that we continue to support staff to deliver for patients.

By maximizing opportunities to deliver even more life-saving checks and tests, building on the successes of increasing use of the independent sector since the pandemic, we can speed up diagnoses and continue to bring down waiting lists for routine care."

Chief Executive of the Independent Healthcare Providers Network, David Hare said:

We strongly welcome the establishment of a new taskforce to look at how the NHS can turbo-charge its use of the independent sector to tackle the elective care backlog.

For decades independent sector capacity has been used by the NHS to improve patients' access to care free at the point of use, and giving patients' a legal right to choose an independent sector provider for their treatment was a big factor in getting NHS waiting times down in the 2000's.

The taskforce is a great opportunity to learn lessons from that period and in particular to make good on patients' legal right to choose the best provider for them, whether public or independent sector, and to ensure that the capacity and capability which is available in the independent sector is being fully utilised for the benefit of NHS patients."

The new diagnostic centers will be located in the heart of communities across the country including football stadiums and shopping centers offering a range of services including MRI, CT and x-rays, making tests more accessible for patients. They will take the total of approved CDCs to 127, over 80% of the government's intention to open up to 160 CDCs to perform up to nine million additional tests a year by 2025.

91 are already up and running across the country and new data shows the one-stop shops, backed by £2.3 billion in government funding, have delivered over 2.4 million tests, checks and scans since July 2021. These are speeding up access to services for patients and reducing waiting times. In September CDCs delivered 11% of all diagnostic activity, a significant step in achieving our ambition for 40% of diagnoses to take place in CDCs by 2025.

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