Labour demands plan to clear NHS backlog as waiting times increase

Labour has called on the government to set out a plan to clear the NHS backlog in non-coronavirus healthcare as new figures show increased waiting times during the Covid-19 crisis.

Jonathan Ashworth will use the opposition day debate in the House of Commons on Wednesday to force a vote on this demand, as well as expanding weekly Covid-19 testing to all NHS staff.

The push from the Shadow Health Secretary follows the publication of NHS England data showing that of 840,742 people waiting for diagnostic tests, 468,622 – over 55% – are waiting for more than six weeks.

Commenting on the increased waiting times, Ashworth said: “Ministers tell us the NHS has ‘coped’ through the Covid-19 peak but that was on the back of cancelled operations, delayed scans and diagnostic tests.

“Estimates suggest two million people are waiting for cancer screening, tests or treatment and that 1,600 cases of cancer are currently left undiagnosed every month.”

Labour analysis of the health service data reveals that over half of patients – 55.7% – were waiting for longer than six weeks for diagnostic tests in April, compared to 2.8% before the pandemic.

The research also shows that between February and April, the number of people waiting over six weeks for magnetic resonance imaging – used to detect tumours throughout the body – increased by more than 70,000.

Labour says the number of patients waiting more than six weeks for:

  • A colonoscopy, used to detect bowel cancer, has increased by 520% (5,234 to 32,430)
  • A flexible sigmoidoscopy, also used to detect bowel cancer, has increased by 722% (1,820 to 14,957)
  • A cystoscopy, used to detect bladder cancer, has increased by 545% (1,270 to 8,190)


Ashworth added: “It’s now urgent ministers bring forward a plan to tackle the backlog in non-Covid-19 care. A vital component would be the introduction of weekly routine testing of all NHS staff to keep them and patients safe from Covid-19 while receiving treatment.

“We’re calling on MPs to support this motion to tackle the rapidly growing queues of their constituents waiting for treatment.”

Labour warned the government of a “growing and alarming backlog” of non-coronavirus clinical demand in May, and demanded that the Health Secretary ensure “every patient receives the care they need”.

The party last week called on the government to expand the current coronavirus testing of NHS and social care staff, extending it beyond those with symptoms to introduce routine testing for all once a week.

Research carried out by University College London Hospitals found that a fifth of infections among hospital patients, and almost nine in ten among healthcare workers, may have been caught in hospital.

A further study by Barts Health NHS Trust found that at the end of March, around 7% of asymptomatic healthcare workers tested positive for the virus, falling to around 1% by the end of April.

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