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NHS launches out-of-area hospital ‘matching’ platform to tackle record waiting lists

Patients who need treatment will be quickly allocated to a hospital with sufficient capacity via a newly launched ‘matching’ platform in order to help bring down elective backlogs, NHS England has announced.

The tool will allow NHS staff to view and add available surgery slots in hospitals across the country, including in the independent sector.

According to NHS England, clinical teams will be required to upload details of patients willing to travel who are on their waiting list, with other NHS providers able to match people up to treatment. Options are then passed to the patient to choose from.

The tool was originally introduced for patients needing a hospital admission but has now been expanded to include cancer, diagnostic checks, and outpatient appointments.

NHS England said the system is mainly to be used for patients who have been waiting the longest, and views it as a key tool in eliminating all 65-week waits by April 2024.

Gynaecology, colorectal, trauma and orthopaedics have benefitted most from the mutual aid so far, NHS England said.

NHS chief executive, Amanda Pritchard, commented: ‘Despite significant pressure on services, NHS staff have already made incredible progress against our elective recovery plan, and this smart new tool will help us to continue to reduce long waits for patients.

‘It shows, once again, the benefits of having a national health service – NHS staff can now work even more closely with other hospitals across the country to identify capacity and conveniently match patients to available treatment and appointment slots.’

Waiting lists hit record levels

This comes as NHS England announced a record 7.57 million people are now waiting for NHS hospital treatment – three million higher than it was before the pandemic.

More than 383,000 people had been waiting more than 52 weeks to start routine treatment by the end of June, which had dropped slightly from 385,000 a month earlier.

And around 7,170 people were waiting more than 18 months at the end of June, compared to 11,400 in May. This is despite NHS England’s pledge to eliminate all 18-month waits by April 2024.

What’s more, NHS emergency departments experienced their second busiest ever July, with 2.1 million attendances. The summer is on track to be the busiest on record.

The NHS also experienced another record month for cancer checks with over 261,000 urgent referrals in June, and a near-record number of people starting treatment for cancer at 29,479.

Commenting on the overall NHS figures, deputy chief executive at NHS Providers Saffron Cordery said: ‘A perfect storm of squeezed funding in the NHS, the pandemic, the cost-of-living crisis, workforce shortages and now industrial action has pushed the waiting list to its highest point at 7.57 million.

‘This will ring alarm bells for trust leaders up and down the country as mounting care backlogs inevitably pile more pressure onto an already overstretched NHS. Amid ongoing strikes, this is an extremely busy summer for A&E while ambulance services also face very high demand and more urgent calls.’

Assistant director of policy at the Health Foundation Tim Gardner added: ‘Industrial action has hampered efforts to address the backlog, but a lack of staff and capacity meant the waiting list was increasing long before the pandemic and had reached 7.2 million before the first strike towards the end of last year.’

He continued: ‘While ministers have been quick to blame strikes for the lack of progress, the roots of this lie in political failures to tackle rising pressures over the last decade. There are no quick fixes – ensuring people get the care they need at the time they need it hinges on the Government acting to address the underlying problems facing the health service, which includes historic under-investment in equipment and buildings, as well as delivering the long-term workforce plan to address the significant staff shortages.’