ACCORDING to a new analysis, NHS waiting lists could top eight million by next summer regardless of whether or not staff continue strike action.

This comes as the Health Foundation calls for policy changes and investment to clear the growing backlog.

In the report, the group modelled four different scenarios and concluded, based on current trends, that the NHS waiting list could peak at eight million by August 2024.

It added that if strikes continue, this number could be 180,000 higher.

Recently, it was revealed that 7.75 million people were waiting for NHS treatment as of August, the highest figure since records began all the way back in 2007.

'Lives put on hold' as up to eight million people could be left on NHS waiting lists by summer 2024

Director of data analytics at the Health Foundation, Charles Tallack, said:  “Behind these numbers are people anxious for a diagnosis, patients in avoidable pain and lives put on hold.”

Recently, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made tackling the waiting lists in England his priority but his government has since blamed ongoing strikes for the issue failing to improve.

Mr Tallack added: “While industrial action has a range of impacts on NHS organisations, the strikes have only directly resulted in a small increase in the size of the overall waiting list.

“Ministers have been quick to blame industrial action for the lack of progress in reducing the waiting list but the roots of this crisis lie in a decade of underinvestment in the NHS, a failure to address chronic staff shortages and the longstanding neglect of social care.”

Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive at NHS Providers, said the report “will fuel trust leaders’ concerns that the record-high waiting list will keep growing before it comes down”.

“The projected increase alongside the rising financial impact of industrial action underscores the urgency of resolving the strikes,” she added.

“While strikes are not the leading cause of longer waits, the report confirms they exacerbate the issue by swallowing up NHS resources that could be better spent on cutting care backlogs.”

Mr Tallack also said these figures highlight how the pandemic has  “heaped further significant pressure on an already stressed system”, but said “waiting lists were already growing long before Covid”.

He added: “Eliminating the backlog for elective care and returning waiting times to 18 weeks is entirely possible – it was done in the early 2000s and it can be done again. However, it will be very challenging and will require sustained focus, policy action and investment.”

An NHS spokesperson said: “While the analysis itself acknowledges that the impact of strikes is significantly underestimated and NHS staff and patients won’t agree that the impact has been small, with more than one million appointments and procedures rescheduled, there has continued to be important progress in bringing down the longest waits – two-year waits have been virtually eliminated and waits of more than 65 weeks have more than halved.

“The NHS is seeing high levels of demand, with more people coming forwarding for the care they need and referrals increasing at an even higher rate than before the pandemic, which is why our elective recovery plan and tools like community diagnostic centres, surgical hubs, and technology like robots and AI are essential to tackling the backlog and ensuring everyone gets the care they need as quickly as possible.”