PRIVATE hospitals and foreign doctors must be drafted in to rescue the NHS while current staff will work overtime for years, health experts warn.
MPs were told the UK will have to “pull every lever” to stand a chance of getting the surgery waiting list – currently at a record 5.45million people in England – under control by 2025.
Anita Charlesworth, research director of the Health Foundation, told Parliament’s health committee that up to eight million people missed out on healthcare during the Covid crisis.
As a result the non-urgent waiting list has spiralled at triple the usual rate, with one million patients added to surgeons’ schedules in the past year.
Ms Charlesworth estimated it could cost £17billion to fix the problem within the next four years and that it would take 18,000 more nurses and 4,000 more doctors.
She said: “The likely way that we’d have to do this is to encourage existing staff to work longer hours, so it’s very unlikely we’d be able to do it at the normal cost of providing care.
“It will cost extra because we’ll also have to use a lot of independent sector and develop long-term partnerships with them.
“And we’d almost certainly need international recruitment. Essentially we’d need to pull every lever available to us to get anywhere close.
“It will be incredibly hard to do it over that time frame and, realistically, it may well take quite a bit longer than four years.”
Ms Charlesworth’s comments came as MPs heard from patients who said they felt “abandoned” by the NHS in lockdown, unable to get appointments with their doctors.
And Dr Andrew Goddard, of the Royal College of Physicians, said it “doesn’t feel like there is a coherent plan” for getting the health service back on track.
Medics from unions representing all kinds of doctors warned they are under extreme pressure already and are afraid of what will happen in the winter months.
Ministers last night announced a £5.4billion cash boost for the NHS to help it get through to April, with money ring-fenced for routine operations, Covid control and faster discharges.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “The NHS was there for us during the pandemic – but treating Covid patients has created huge backlogs.
“This funding will go straight to the frontline to provide more patients with the treatments they need but aren’t getting quickly enough.”
The money will be split so £2.8billion is spent specifically on Covid costs, including PPE and infection control, with £1.5billion going towards plans to get through the waiting list.
Another £600million will be available for daily running costs and £478m for running a faster discharge programme to stop bed-blocking.
Exactly where and how the money is spent will be up to NHS chiefs.
The announcement comes after unions last week said the NHS needs an extra £10billion per year to be able to cope with rocketing demand.
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