Backlogs will take years to clear, and the fact that they are longest in the poorest areas makes a mockery of Tory rhetoric
The worst thing about the NHS’s enormous waiting lists is that they mean millions of people are not getting the care they need in a timely way. Prioritisation systems ensure that most waits for surgery are not dangerous. But many are painful, frustrating and anxious. They are also wasteful, as when people’s bodies aren’t working well – because their hip needs replacing, or because they can’t see due to cataracts, for example – they can’t do the things that they want and need to. Sometimes, delays in treatment mean that conditions become worse.
New evidence about inequality, with the queues for treatment disproportionately longer in poor areas, shows that these disadvantages are not evenly shared across the population. Currently, there are 260,000 people waiting for heart treatment and 62,000 waiting for orthopaedic surgery in England. Analysis from the King’s Fund shows that those in deprived areas of England were nearly twice as likely as those in the wealthiest to wait more than a year. This is further proof that what is going on in Boris Johnson’s Britain is not that poorer people and places are being brought up to the level of richer ones. Instead, the gap between the haves and have-nots is growing, with the inequality-widening effects of the pandemic being felt not only in rates of Covid itself, but also in education, housing, work and other aspects of health.