NHS patients to be offered chance to travel for surgery

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NHS patients in England who have been waiting more than two years for surgery are being offered hospital treatment in alternative parts of the country.

More than 6,000 long-term waiting-list patients are being offered travel and accommodation costs where appropriate to help the NHS through the backlog.

Health officials want to ensure nobody is waiting more than two years by the end of July.

More than 400 patients have already said they would be prepared to travel.

Three patients waiting for surgery in Derby have already received treatment in the Northumbria health region, with another two patients booked in, NHS England said.

And in south-west London, 17 orthopaedic patients from the South West of England are being treated, with another 11 patients set to follow in the coming weeks.

Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said the number of two-year waits had already reduced by two-thirds since January.

"Innovations like this are helping to tackle waiting lists and speed up access to treatment, backed by record investment," he said.

Mr Javid also pointed to more than 90 community diagnostic centres delivering more than a million checks and scans in the past year.

With weekend clinics and dedicated surgery hubs, he said NHS staff were making "great progress" in busting the Covid backlogs.

But British Medical Association leader Dr Chaand Nagpaul is warning that attempts to address what he called a "once in a generation backlog of unimaginable proportions" would be undermined by a lack of staff and beds.

He pointed out that there were already 100,000 vacancies in the NHS in England and that risked getting worse because doctors were "utterly exhausted" and their wellbeing was at "rock bottom".

He will tell the BMA's annual conference in Brighton later that the health service is "at serious risk of haemorrhaging more doctors", with many considering early retirement or likely to work fewer hours.

He will also say there is a "parallel hidden backlog of potentially tens of millions waiting for medical, mental health and chronic disease care who don't feature in any government statistics".

Hospitals working together

There were 22,500 people waiting more than two years for an operation in England in January, but this has fallen by 15,000.

However, the latest monthly NHS figures show it was the busiest May for emergency care, with 2.2 million A&E attendances.

And nearly 6.5 million people in England are waiting for hospital treatment - a record high - with many waiting for knee and hip replacements, and eye surgery.

Backlogs built up during the Covid pandemic as hospitals treated thousands of people who were ill with the virus, forcing patients with other illnesses to wait much longer than usual for surgery or treatment.

Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of NHS England, said: "Millions who did not seek help earlier in the pandemic are now coming forward."

But she said despite the emergence of the Omicron variant and a difficult winter, the NHS was on track to "eliminate two-year waiters" by the end of July.

"One of the benefits of the NHS is that hospitals can work together to bring Covid backlogs down together, and so if people can and want to be treated quicker elsewhere in the country, NHS staff are ensuring that it can happen," Ms Pritchard said.

However, even if patients are happy to be treated in another part of the country, it might not always be possible because of the specialist nature of their treatment.

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