The NHS should offer routine pre-planned operations at the weekend to reduce the record waiting list and help boost the economy, a new report suggests.
Experts have urged the Government to do more to tackle the NHS backlog to “get people off the lists and back to work”.
A new report from the IPPR think tank and LCP Health Analytics suggests that getting people on the waiting list back to work or enabling them to work more could boost the economy by billions.
One of the ways the health service could reduce the waiting list could be to offer routine pre-planned operations at the weekend, the authors said.
“Currently, it is rare for elective treatments to be performed on weekends,” they wrote.
“Making better use of this time would significantly boost efforts to achieve a 30% increase in activity by 2025.”
The latest NHS figures show that an estimated 7.21 million people were waiting to start treatment at the end of January.
The IPPR and LCP Health Analytics said that there is a “compelling moral reason” to reduce the backlog, but there is also a “convincing economic case to go further and faster”.
The NHS and Government have set a target to deliver “around 30% more elective activity by 2024/25 than before the pandemic”.
The authors of the IPPR and LCP Health Analytics report said that if this target it met this would “deliver an estimated increase in production of £73 billion over five years”.
This includes £18 billion generated through people returning to work or increasing the number of hours they work – directly increasing GDP; and a further £55 billion generated through work people do that helps others and society but for which they are not paid – such as childcare, caring for relatives, unpaid domestic work and volunteering which “also contribute indirectly to economic output”.
The authors said the NHS should provide elective treatments at the weekend, create “regional waiting lists” to help get people seen quicker and cut some routine follow-up appointments to free up doctor time.
They also called for more investment in the social care workforce.
Lord Ara Darzi, co-chair of IPPR’s Commission on Health and Prosperity, said: “The NHS has made genuine progress in reducing the number of people waiting over two years for treatment, this report shows there is a convincing, economic case to go yet further and faster.
“This report also highlights a series of compelling levers that policymakers can use to speed up progress.
“Getting people off the lists and back to work is good for their own quality of life, and it is also good for the economy.”
Dr Parth Patel, senior research fellow at IPPR, added: “It’s often said we need economic growth to support the NHS, but right now we need the NHS to support the economy.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Cutting waiting lists is one of the Prime Minister’s top five priorities and we are working tirelessly to support the NHS following the pandemic and a difficult winter, backed by up to £14.1 billion for health and social care over the next two years.
“The longest waits are falling and more patients are getting access to treatment. The NHS has already virtually eliminated waits of more than two years for treatment, while 18-month waits have been cut by over 80% since the peak in September 2021.
“We have also opened 94 new community diagnostic centres which have delivered over 3.4 million tests, checks and scans, since July 2021 – supporting patients to be diagnosed and access treatment more quickly.”