Waiting for treatment?



16 November 2021

The latest data from NHS England is far from encouraging.

As has been widely reported by the media, waiting times for ambulances are growing, as too is the time taken to receive treatment in Accident and Emergency units across the nation. 

And the overall waiting list for National Health Service (NHS) treatments in England has now reached a new record-high of 5.83 million people, which equates to around 1 in 10 of the nation’s population. 

It is also worth highlighting that the above figures relate only to NHS treatments in England.  Similar pressures are also being experienced in the health services of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland too.

As expected?

Yet these figures are anything but surprising. 

In this August Blog post we looked in detail at some post-pandemic NHS waiting list scenarios.  That post followed Sajid Javid’s speculation that waiting lists could continue to climb, possibly to as many as 13 million people in the months and years ahead.

What about the extra NHS funding?

Of course such predictions were made prior to the announcement of the new Health & Social Care Levy (which actually begins life as both an employer and employee National Insurance increase in April 2022).  The vast majority of the money raised in the early years from this new levy is earmarked for the National Health Service.

And a further significant investment in the NHS was announced by The Chancellor is his Budget speech last month too.

These extra funds will be warmly welcomed by a National Health Service that is under intense pressure after a heroic performance throughout the pandemic.  As a result it is to be expected that some of the more extreme waiting list predications might yet be avoided.

More than just money

Yet the NHS problems currently extend beyond additional finances alone.

Jeremey Hunt M.P. - the former Health Secretary and current chair of the Health & Social Care Select Committee - said on Radio 4’s Today programme this week;

“Extra money won’t help the NHS without a bigger pool of doctors and nurses.”

And this is most certainly true.  Estimates suggest that the NHS remains short of around 90,000 nurses at present, and - after the best part of 2 years battling a pandemic - many NHS workers are physically and mentally exhausted too.  Indeed it now seems likely that at least some existing staff are considering leaving the service (as outlined in this recent article from The Metro).

So regardless of the welcome new funding levels and the facilities it will help provide, the reality is that the NHS is also very reliant on the health and goodwill of its workforce to help tackle those enormous waiting lists. 

NHS pressures

So the NHS is under three specific areas of pressure in the winter to come:

  • A significant backlog in diagnosis and treatments from the last two years
  • The continuation of the pandemic
  • An ongoing shortage of staff

This suggests that those National Health Service waiting lists will continue to climb in the winter months ahead. 

The problem for employers

Which in turn represents a potential problem for employers too. 

For if 1 in 10 of the population are waiting on NHS treatments, then it follows that many will be both of working age and employed.  So employers might well see a significant increase in long-term absences and/or reduced productivity whilst their employees await treatment from the National Health Service. 

This is clearly another potential headwind that most employers would be keen to avoid at any time, and even more so after 20 months on on-off pandemic restrictions. 

Howden would therefore strongly encourage employers to again review their company-sponsored private healthcare provision for employees, with a view to making such provision more robust and more widely available.  In this way workers of all grades will be able to bypass many of those lengthy NHS waiting lists via the use of private treatments as and when needed.

For more information on any of the above topics, please speak to your usual Howden Consultant in the first instance, or visit our website for other contact options.  

Published 16/11/21

Steve Herbert

Steve Herbert

Steve is Head of Benefits Strategy, Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing, and is an award-winning thought leader on Pensions, Employee Benefits, and Human Resources issues. He is occasionally accused of making Employee Benefits interesting.

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