Health chiefs plan private care expansion to cut NHS waiting lists

Wales and Scotland invited to send requests for patients to be treated in England

An operating theatre in Birmingham. Patients from devolved UK nations could soon be treated in England. Getty Images
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Patients in Wales and Scotland who have been waiting for medical treatment for extended periods could be offered care at English hospitals under government plans.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay said he would be “open to considering any request” from his Welsh and Scottish counterparts for patients to be sent across borders to either private or National Health Service (NHS) hospitals.

The Department for Health and Social Care said there were “significant variations” in NHS waiting times across the UK nations, despite shared or common approaches.

“In Wales, more than 73,000 people are waiting over 77 weeks for treatment, and at least 21,600 people are waiting over 78 weeks for an outpatient, day case or inpatient appointment in Scotland,” a department statement said.

“In England, waiting times for patients over 78 weeks have been virtually eliminated.”

In a letter to Michael Matheson, Scotland's Health Minister, and Eluned Morgan, who has the position in Wales, Mr Barclay said the fluctuation in performances across the UK's NHS services was a worry.

"We must continue to take steps to support the NHS and reduce waiting times to ensure no part of the UK is left behind. I am therefore concerned by the variation in performance across NHS services," he wrote.

"As we look to address this issue, it is important that the UK government and devolved administrations work together to ensure that no matter where you are in the country, citizens can access vital services quickly."

Mr Barclay invited ministers from the devolved governments to discuss ways to tackle the backlog of patients waiting for care.

The arrangement aims to build on existing arrangements for cross-border health care, the department said.

In its latest release of data last week, NHS England said 7.6 million people were waiting to start treatment at the end of June, up from 7.5 million in May.

The figures was the highest since records began in August 2007.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made cutting NHS waiting lists one of his five key priorities.

Outlining his vision in January, he said making use of the private sector to ease pressure on the NHS was central to his plan.

Updated: August 14, 2023, 10:15 AM