New Elective Recovery Taskforce established to help reduce NHS waiting times

The news comes as plans have also been approved for 19 new community diagnostic centres

Ky Diagnostics option b
Pexels/Cats Coming

The Government has launched a new Elective Recovery Taskforce, aiming to help deliver on targets for reducing treatment waiting times in the NHS and improve collaboration with the independent sector.

This comes as plans for 19 new community diagnostic centres around the country have been approved.

The Government highlighted progress achieved thus far, in nearly ending waiting periods of more than two years for treatment, and reducing the number of people waiting 18 months for treatment by almost 60% in a year.

The new taskforce has been established to help deliver on remaining targets of eliminating 18-month waiting periods by April 2023, and ending waits of longer than a year by March 2025.

Led by Health Minister, Will Quince, and made up of academics and experts from the NHS and the independent sector, the taskforce will advise on ways to support NHS recovery following the pandemic and reduce waiting times.

In particular, a group of experts will work on recommendations for how the NHS could utilise existing capacity in the independent sector to reduce backlogs. The Government suggests that this would be commissioned using existing budgets, and at no extra cost to the NHS.

Specialities, including ophthalmology, have been highlighted as demonstrating successful collaboration with the independent sector.

The group will also seek to improve collaboration between the NHS and independent sector, including outlining resources such as theatres, beds, and outpatient settings, available in the independent sector.

The taskforce met for the first time at Downing Street on 7 December. 

Commenting on the launch of the taskforce, Quince said: “We are relentlessly focussed on tackling waiting lists and busting the COVID-19 backlogs.”

Highlighting that the taskforce would bring together experts “from across the healthcare system,” he said: “Doing so will ensure we’re using all the capacity available to us to improve care across the NHS and independent sector, and give patients more autonomy over when and where they are treated.”

Chief executive of the Independent Healthcare Providers Network, David Hare, said independent sector capacity had been used by the NHS “for decades,” suggesting this was a factor in reducing NHS waiting times in the 2000s and that the taskforce provided an opportunity to “learn lessons from that period.”

Reacting to the announcement, Rory Deighton, director of the NHS Confederation’s acute network, said health leaders welcomed the Government’s focus on tackling the backlogs, adding: “Leaders will be keen to support the taskforce and understand how independent sector capacity can be unlocked as soon as possible, learning from previous arrangements during the pandemic.”

Deighton added that “genuine recovery” would require “holistic and sustained attention,” and noted that in some parts of the country, the independent sector is staffed by those who work in the NHS.

Community diagnostic centres

The Health and Social Care Secretary, Steve Barclay, also announced that 19 new ‘one-stop’ community diagnostic centres have been approved to speed up tests, checks and scans for patients.

The centres will be located in communities around the country, including at football stadiums and shopping centres, to offer services including MRI, CT and x-rays.

There are 91 centres already in operation, with data suggesting the centres have delivered over 2.4 million tests, checks and scans since July 2021.

The Government aims to open up to 160 community diagnostic centres, to perform up to 9 million additional tests a year, by 2025.

NHS England national director of elective recovery, Sir James Mackey, acknowledged the “significant progress” made in reducing waiting times, and suggested: “By maximising opportunities to deliver even more life-saving checks and tests, building on the successes of increasing use of the independent sector since the pandemic, we can speed up diagnoses and continue to bring down waiting lists for routine care.”