Responding to the NAO’s report on the NHS backlog, Ruth Thorlby, Assistant Director of Policy at the Health Foundation, said:  

‘The NAO’s report has delivered a cold dose of reality about the scale of the challenge facing the NHS in the years ahead. Even before the new Covid variant emerged, the NAO warns that the record-breaking waiting lists could grow even bigger before they improve. Any more disruption risks making the mountain to climb that much higher. 

‘Given the huge uncertainty, the government’s NHS recovery plan needs to be realistic about the complexity of bringing waiting lists down and how long it may take to do so. This means striking a balance between meeting increased demand for care, supporting the wellbeing of patients waiting longer for treatment and an under resourced and overstretched workforce exhausted from the pandemic.  

‘It also needs to be a practical strategy that supports innovation and improvement, while not being top down, punitive or target driven. The NAO report rightly highlights that the recovery challenge is not the same everywhere with some areas hit much harder than others. Any solutions, therefore, such as relocating patients for treatment, should aim to actively address these unjustified disparities and, at the very least, must avoid exacerbating the existing inequalities that have been widened by the pandemic.  

‘Recovery is more than just about hospitals. Any plan must include ways to boost services in primary care and in the community, to help prevent people from becoming acutely ill and relieve pressure on hospitals. Social care especially needs urgent funding, both to enable people to leave hospital promptly and keep people well at home.'

Media contact

Emily Wilson
020 020 7257 2061

Further reading


Elective care: how has COVID-19 affected the waiting list?


Latest analysis looks at the scale of the elective care backlog, and how pent-up demand is affecting...


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21 October 2021, 09.00

A panel discussion exploring the extent of the backlog facing the NHS in the recovery period and how...

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