NHS England must “practically eliminate” the list of those who have waited more than two years for treatment, the chief executive said, as patients have the option to be treated more quickly at hospitals in different parts of the country.
The number who waited two years or more to receive treatment dropped from a peak of 22,500 in January to 6,700 after the Covid-19 pandemic caused waiting lists to grow.
People who remain on the waiting list are being asked whether they are prepared to travel for treatment. More than 400 agreed, with 140 scheduled for surgery at another hospital.
NHS Chief Executive Amanda Pritchard said: “As part of the largest and most ambitious turnaround program in NHS history, the team is now on track to virtually eliminate two-year-old waiters by the end of July.
“But the NHS won’t stop there, from delivering one million tests and verifications through our newly launched community diagnostic centers to new same-day hip replacements, the team is constantly looking for new and innovative ways to treat patients faster, especially those who have been waiting a long time.”
The NHS said it will cover travel and accommodation costs for patients “where appropriate”.
Three patients who were waiting to receive treatment at Derby University Hospitals and Burton NHS Foundation Trust have now been given treatment at Northumbria Healthcare Foundation Trust more than 100 miles away, with two more booked.
Meanwhile, the South West London Elective Orthopedic Center has treated 17 patients from South West England, and another 11 are due to receive treatment in the coming weeks.
Patients who choose to wait longer, or patients in highly specialized areas that may require a personalized plan, however, will not necessarily be treated until the end of July, the NHS warns.
The drop in waitlist numbers comes after the busiest May ever for emergency care, with 2.2 million emergency calls and nearly 78,000 of the most urgent ambulance calls.
Pritchard added: “One of the benefits of the NHS is that hospitals can work together to reduce Covid backlogs and so if people can and want to be treated more quickly elsewhere in the country, the NHS team is ensuring that this can happen.
“Once again, the NHS team is demonstrating the agility, resilience and compassion they show when given the tools and resources they need, they deliver to our patients.”
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “The NHS is making great progress to ensure that those who wait longer have access to life-saving treatment as part of our plan to eliminate Covid backlogs by reducing two-year waits in two-thirds since January.
“I announced a new right of choice for patients earlier this year and some of the longer waiters are already benefiting from being offered an alternative provider where they can be served faster.
“Innovations like this are helping to address waiting lists and accelerate access to treatment, supported by record investments, and there are more than 90 community diagnostic centers delivering more than a million checks and exams last year.”
Saffron Cordery, interim chief executive of NHS Providers, said the health service is “approaching the goal” of clearing the backlog of all people who have been waiting more than two years for hospital care.
She told BBC Breakfast: “The NHS is doing incredibly well and we are seeing those numbers dropping significantly week on week. I never like to say, ‘Yes, it’s definitely going to happen,’ but I think it’s a testament to the hard work of trusted leaders across the country that we’re getting to this point.”
Asked about the request for more nurses, she said: “We’ve known for a long time that the workforce is a significant challenge.
“I think one of the things we have to remember is that the challenges we are facing now, post-pandemic, existed before the pandemic and the pandemic has simply exacerbated them.
“So we have funding challenges that come from a decade of tight funding; demand was already rising before the pandemic; we had challenges in terms of social assistance that we have now and they are increasing significantly.
“But we also have this labor shortage, which is incredibly serious.
“We ask the government to put in place a fully funded and funded long-term workforce plan so that we can resolve this once and for all, but we know there are major challenges across the entire nursing workforce, across the entire nursing workforce, medical work and elsewhere. of the NHS staff structure.”