More than 50 surgical hubs will be set up across England to tackle waiting lists for NHS treatment, which hit a record high according to the latest NHS statistics. The government said the hubs would enable the NHS to carry out 2m additional procedures over the next three years. However, more than 6.8 million people – one in eight – were waiting to start routine hospital treatment in July and waiting times for ambulances are on the rise.
The hubs will provide 100 additional operating theatres and more than 1,000 beds by 2024 to 2025, the government said. It plans to build the hubs on existing hospital sites across England, but the majority of funding will go to hospitals in the Midlands.
Amanda Pritchard, NHS England’s chief executive, said: “Surgical hubs are a vital part of plans to recover elective services across England and these new sites will be a welcome boost in helping us to further tackle the Covid-19 backlogs that have inevitably built up over the pandemic.”
Waiting times at record high
Average waiting times have increased to more than 13 weeks, with almost 380,000 people waiting more than a year for treatment.
The British Medical Association has detailed years of declining standards in the NHS prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. It said: “Demand for hospital treatment was outstripping capacity even before the pandemic. In recent years, patients have been waiting longer for emergency, routine and cancer treatment. The NHS has been increasingly struggling to treat patients within safe operational standards.”
Tim Mitchell, vice president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, noted that funding new surgical hubs was essential to improving elective recovery (care that is planned in advance rather than in emergency). But he called on the new health secretary, Thérèse Coffey, to ensure this was met with funding and investment in staff.
He said: “We cannot afford to let this progress slip, or the elective recovery could be derailed at a vital juncture.”
Right to health
The UK has signed up to the Constitution of the World Health Organization (1946), which enshrines the right to health, as does the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) stipulates that governments should create conditions which would “assure to all medical service and medical attention in the event of sickness”. They should ensure the “provision of equal and timely access to basic preventive, curative, rehabilitative health services”, which could be seen to include timely treatment.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission said: “Record NHS waiting lists and worsening waiting times before the coronavirus pandemic have limited access to healthcare.”