Nurses and consultants will be paid to work weekends and evenings to try and clear the backlog in surgical procedures.
The Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, admitted that waiting times may worsen for certain patients as staff focus on clearing the backlog of patients who have been waiting a year or more.
The total number waiting for treatment has reached three million, which is 5% of Britain’s population. This is the first time since 2008 that it has reached this level.
The Department of Health has announced that an additional 100000 treatments will be undertaken during this summer in a bid to clear those patients who have waited an extremely long time.
Critics have warned that the government is rationing health care and the NHS is giving in to the pressures of a lack of funds and increased demand.
The Chairman of British Medical Association’s governing council, Dr Mark Porter, said waiting for a surgical procedure is a worrying and stressful time for patients. He said that for these and other medical reasons, it is not beneficial to the patient to have to wait longer that is absolutely necessary for treatment.
He agrees that those who have waited the longest should be first to receive treatment, but feels that this announcement will result in more patients having to wait longer for an operation because the government is rationing care. He added that this is more evidence that the NHS is crumbling under pressure and patient care is being compromised.
According to Dr Porter, front-line staff are working much harder to meet the increase in demand, but investment is not adequate. He said the NHS is moving from one missed target to another, and the government is not getting to grips with where the problem really lies.
He added that staff and services are stretched to the limit, and workloads are reaching unmanageable proportions as the demand on the NHS increases. He stated that politicians need to face reality as a long-term solution is needed to overcome the £30bn NHS funding variance.
During February and March this year, the 18-week target for GP referral to treatment was breached and the 62 day target for suspected cancer patients was not met for the first time during the last quarter of 2013/14.
According to analysis done by the King’s fund, diagnostic test targets have not been met for six consecutive months, and A&E departments struggled to reach the four-hour target, with many missing it for almost one year.
Additionally, there are in excess of 500 patients who have been on a waiting list for longer than a year for pre-planned operations or treatments.
The new backlog clearing plan will allow those who have waited the longest to be treated first. However, this may result in more patients having to wait longer than the 18-week target over the next few months.
According to Mr Hunt, the focus on those on the waiting list may result in more patients waiting longer than the targeted time, but the target will be met before the end of this year.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health has confirmed that the £250m was being taken from existing health budgets.
The shadow health minister, Liz Kendall, stated that the government has lost control of the waiting periods.
Image Credit: Artur Bergman