‘Impossible to know’ how much of NHS backlog will be cleared in three years, Javid admits

Treasury has announced £5.9 billion package aimed at clearing waiting lists

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Monday 25 October 2021 09:53

Sajid Javid has admitted it is “impossible to know” how much of the NHS backlog will be cleared in the next three years — despite unveiling billions extra in funding.

The health secretary said 5.7 million people were now on the waiting list — the highest number since records began — but also estimated that it could be as high as at least seven million.

It comes after the Treasury announced a £5.9 billion package aimed at clearing the backlog, including £3.8 billion in extra spending to get the health service “back on track” after the Covid crisis.

But asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme whether he could promise the backlog would be cleared after three years, he replied: “No, I can’t do that. I don’t think anyone can do that.

Pressed on how much of the backlog will be cleared, Mr Javid added: “I’m not gong to put a number on it — it’s impossible to know because I don’t know how many people eventually come back to the NHS.

“With this investment, this £6 billion investment in capital, in equipment, alongside the investment we’ve announced through the levy of £12 billion a year going into the NHS and care systems — this is what’s going to drive down that waiting list and make sure more people get seen as quickly as possible.”

However, concerns have also been raised about staffing levels and whether the sum unveiled by the Treasury will be enough to clear the considerable backlog.

The government is also due to announce whether to make vaccines mandatory for NHS staff which Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, said was a “mistake” and could lead to thousands of NHS staff not being able to work.

“First thing I would say is that I want all NHS staff to be double vaccinated,” Sir Keir told Good Morning Britain.

“I think forcing them is a mistake — it’s better to encourage,” he added. “The problem I fear we’re going to get is that you’re going to have thousands of NHS staff who can’t work any longer, just when we’ve got massive vacancies in the NHS as it is.

“If I was to ask myself is the problem in our hospitals in terms of the virus, or is the problem in our schools where we aren’t going through the vaccination programme quickly enough — I’d say it was the second of those.”

Mr Javid said on Monday he was “leaning towards” making jabs compulsory after a public consultation on the issue closed last week, but stressed a “final decision” had not been made by the government.

Elsewhere, the health secretary said he would wear a mask in the Commons on Budget day — but declined to repeat his call for Conservative colleagues to act as an example to the rest of the public.

“If I’m in the chamber on Budget day, given it will be packed, I will be, yes,” Mr said. “The guidelines are clear, it’s for people to make a personal decision on how they see the risk of them and those around them, and this is obviously a workplace setting, so it’s going to be a decision for them, but I can speak for myself.”

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