The English branch of Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) said it is giving patients who have been on waiting lists for more than two years the option to receive treatment more quickly at hospitals in different parts of the country.
Pandemic-related lockdowns caused hospital waiting lists to mount, but NHS Chief Executive Amanda Pritchard said the number who have waited for two years or more to receive treatment has fallen from a peak of 22,500 in January to 6,700.
She said the NHS is “now on track to virtually eliminate two-year waiters by the end of July.”
People who remain on the waiting list are being asked whether they are prepared to travel to receive treatment. More than 400 have agreed, with 140 booked in for surgery at different hospitals.
The NHS said it will cover travel and accommodation costs to patients “where appropriate.”
Three patients who had been waiting to receive treatment at University Hospitals of Derby and Burton NHS Foundation Trust went on to receive treatment at Northumbria Healthcare Foundation Trust more than 100 miles away, with a further two booked in.
Meanwhile, South West London Elective Orthopaedic Centre has treated 17 patients from the southwest of England, and a further 11 are expected to receive treatment in the coming weeks.
‘Record Investment’Health Secretary Sajid Javid said, “I announced a new right to choose for patients earlier this year and some of the longest waiters are already benefiting from the offer of an alternative provider where they can be seen more quickly.”
He said the effort to tackle COVID-19 waiting lists is “backed by record investment.”
In order to fund the effort, the government raised national insurance contributions in April by 1.25 percentage points, breaking a pledge Prime Minister Boris Johnson personally made in the Conservative Party’s election manifesto in 2019, in which he promised not to raise income tax, VAT, or national insurance.
The government predicted that the tax rise will raise £39 billion ($48 billion) over the next three years to reform adult social care and help reduce the NHS backlog caused by the lockdowns.
At the time, Johnson stressed the tax rise was needed because lockdowns had led to “the longest waiting lists we’ve ever seen,” making it necessary to launch “the biggest catch-up programme” in the history of the NHS.