Government proposals on NHS waiting times “not a serious plan”, TUC says

Kieran Maxwell
© Marbury/Shutterstock.com

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has argued that the government’s proposal to fix NHS wait times is “not a serious plan” and urged ministers to focus on ending the crisis in NHS retention and recruitment by increasing staff pay.

Commenting after Tory minister Thérèse Coffey announced her “ABCD” priority list for the NHS – ambulances, backlogs, care, doctors and dentists – TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady warned that “this is not a serious plan for bringing down waiting times and improving patient care”.

As part of the government’s proposal, the Health Secretary plans to call on volunteers to support the health and care system, calling it a “national endeavour”. This will be similar to the scheme put in place during the pandemic.

“Rather than calling for a volunteer army, ministers should be focused on fixing the staffing crisis plaguing the NHS and social care,” O’Grady said.

The TUC has called on the government to do more to improve pay for NHS workers, with its analysis showing that nurses face a £1,000 real-terms pay cut. Research by the trade union federation estimated that paramedics’ real pay would fall by more than £1,500, while nurses will see their income drop by more than £1,100.

The general secretary added: “12 years of pay cuts and pay freezes have led to an exodus of experienced and skilled workers. If we want the NHS and social care to be fighting fit this winter, and into the future, the government must give workers a decent pay rise now.”

The TUC calculated that maternity care assistants’ would see a hit of £600, while hospital porters’ real pay would fall by £200. The TUC highlighted that seven in ten social care workers already earn less than £10 per hour.

Waiting lists for treatment hit a new high earlier this year as ambulance services and A&E departments experienced their worst summer on record. 6.8 million people were waiting to start treatment at the end of July, up from 6.7 million in June.

The figure from July represents the highest number reported since records began in August 2007, when the waiting list stood at 4.2 million. There were 2.6 million people waiting for treatment when the Conservatives came to power in May 2010.

At least 80,107 patients waited 12 hours from a decision to admit in A&E to admission over June, July and August this year – up from 6,284 patients over the same period of time last year. This is also the highest number since records began.

Ambulance services also had their busiest ever this summer, receiving 237,000 category 1 calls, and had the worst response times ever seen during a summer.

Chief executive of think tank Nuffield Trust Nigel Edwards argued that the crisis in waiting times “has been years in the making” and that the data showed that Lis Truss and her new Health Secretary face a “monumental” challenge.

“The pandemic simply served to ramp up pressure on an already beleaguered health service, with staff shortages, a failure to tackle social care, and inadequate investment putting the NHS on the back foot when Covid hit. Even without the pandemic, we would have seen over five million people waiting for routine care,” he added.

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