Rishi Sunak to announce almost £6bn to tackle England's record NHS waiting list

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Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA

Rishi Sunak is to announce almost £6bn to tackle England’s record NHS waiting list.

The number of people waiting for hospital treatment has hit 5.7 million as the health service struggles to clear the growing backlog of care worsened by the pandemic.

In an effort to get a grip on the crisis, the chancellor will unveil plans for investment in NHS capital funding this week to help deliver about 30% more elective activity by 2024-25 compared to pre-pandemic levels. This is equivalent to millions more checks, scans and procedures for non-emergency patients.

“We are committed to getting health services back on track and ensuring no one is left waiting for vital tests or treatment,” said Sunak. “This is a gamechanging investment in the NHS to make sure we have the right buildings, equipment and systems to get patients the help they need and make sure the NHS is fit for the future.”

Related: Record 5.7m people in England waiting for hospital treatment

Dr Layla McCay, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, said health leaders would welcome the funding, but added that it still “falls short” of what is needed “to get services completely back on track”.

McCay also warned that the funding would only deliver results if there were “the right number and mix of workers”. She said: “Recruitment is ongoing but with 80,000 vacancies across the NHS and fully qualified GPs per patient having dropped by 10% over the past five years, this is a long-term issue that cannot be fixed quickly.”

The waiting list is now rising by about 100,000 a month as more people who did not seek or could not access NHS treatment over the past 18 months visit a GP and are referred to hospital. The number of patients waiting more than two years has risen to nearly 10,000.

To address the backlog of people waiting for checks, tests and scans, and help get waiting lists down, £2.3bn of the funding package will be used to try to transform diagnostic services.

There will be at least 100 “one-stop-shop” community diagnostic centres across England, including the 44 already announced, Sunak is expected to say as he announces his autumn budget on Wednesday.

These centres are expected to help clear most existing test backlogs worsened by the pandemic, including for CT, MRI and ultrasound scans, by the end of the parliament, the Treasury said.

The funding will also include £1.5bn for increased bed capacity, equipment and new surgical hubs to tackle waiting times for elective surgeries. Each hub will be equipped with four or five surgical theatres designated for critical elective surgeries.

A total of £2.1bn of the £5.9bn total will be invested in technology and data in a bid to improve efficiency and security within the NHS. It is hoped the new and improved IT will help NHS staff have access to the fastest broadband, and that digital patient records will ensure patients get the best care wherever they are.

On Sunday night the Treasury said the £5.9bn in capital funding was on top of the government’s plan to use £8bn in revenue funding to tackle the elective backlog over the next three years.

Sajid Javid, the health secretary, has previously warned the waiting list could rise to as high as 13 million. Last night he said: “This £6bn investment will support the delivery of millions more checks, scans and procedures for patients across the country.

“Business as usual won’t be enough, that’s why we are going to reform care with more community diagnostic centres, new surgical hubs and the latest technology to help recover NHS services by tackling waiting lists.”

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