What’s the biggest threat to Boris Johnson this autumn? Another wave of coronavirus and another lockdown? Failure at the Cop26 climate summit? A row with Rishi Sunak over the level of public spending (or perhaps about which of their pets is Downing Street’s top dog)?
No. The issue that spooks many ministers is NHS waiting lists. The number of people waiting for treatment has risen to 5.45 million in England, the highest since records began in 2007. The record will continue to be broken every month. Officials believe about 7 million more people did not come forward for treatment during the pandemic even though they might have needed it.
When Sajid Javid, the health secretary, warned that the lists could increase to 13 million, he wasn’t painting it black to strengthen his hand in budget negotiations with the Treasury. The Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts the number could be 14 million by the end of next year. The backlog could take three years to clear; ministers worry that it won’t happen by the next general election, due in 2024 but likely in 2023.
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