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Acumentice white paper – how learning lessons from the past can bring down waiting lists

With the general election imminent, we decided to produce a white paper to analyse how the NHS can finally start to deal with its waiting list issue - looking at how the past could help in solving the future, how Labour's pledges stack up, and how we came to be in the situation of record high waiting lists in the first place.
Published on
June 27, 2024

Our latest white paper reveals a clear path towards bringing NHS elective care waiting lists down from historic highs, if lessons from the past are taken on board and the right steps are followed.

The report, “Reducing waiting lists from historic highs: the political policies that led to the current state and how to solve it”, analyses publicly available data from August 2007 (when referral-to-treatment was first introduced) to March 2024, setting out why we’re in the state we’re in and how we can get out of it quickly and sustainably.

The paper also explores the pledge from the Labour Party, who are hotly tipped to form the next government, for 40,000 new appointments a week and whether this would be enough to start bringing waiting lists down.

An opportunity for change?

With the general election nearly upon us, we sought to find out what could really fix the NHS’s long-term waiting list issue.

Currently at record, historic highs, with no sign that they will start falling anytime soon, there have been plenty of promises to address the problems and bring down the waiting lists – but very little action to back this up.

There has been almost an acceptance that nothing can really be done, that even the smallest fall is a cause for celebration. But our white paper analysis shows that something similar has been done in the past and could be repeated again.

The report found that, between 2007 and 2008, the then-Labour government reduced the waiting list size by more than a third, down from 4.2m in August 2007 to 2.7m in August 2008.

Waiting list sizes then remained relatively consistent over the next seven years, staying between 2.3m to 3.1m, with over 90% of people waiting under the 18-week target throughout the period of January 2012 to November 2015.

Are Labour’s plans sufficient?

The white paper analysed the main policies of the two big political parties and found that only Labour had a number – 40,000 new appointments a week – to evaluate against.

Our findings revealed that the 40,000 weekly uplift, if delivered consistently and targeted at the right specialities, would be more than enough to meet the 18-week standard and bring waiting list numbers down.

So much so, should the 18-week standard be met consistently again over the first term of government, there would be 18,000 (45%) more weekly activity available under Labour’s pledge than is needed to meet our model projections.

“However, the devil is in the detail,” Adam Ceney, our Head of Analytics, who co-authored the report, said. “So, whilst in our modelling the projections suggest Labour’s pledge would be achievable, there is still some detail lacking on how this would be done – and why people wait much longer in different areas of the country and in different specialties.” 

Karina Malhotra, Founder and Managing Director at Acumentice, said of the white paper: “There has been so much talk in recent years about reducing waiting lists, but very little action that has made any real difference. They’ve just continued to historic highs.”

“Our analysis shows that a rapid and sustainable drop can be achieved if we take lessons from the not-too-distant past, get the workforce on board and ensure any changes are designed to be long-term and sustainable so we don’t find ourselves in this position again.”

“It’s been done before, we’ve seen how waiting lists can be brought down in the work we’ve done with Trusts, so it can happen again,” she concluded.

You can read the full white paper here.

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