Rishi Sunak warned of concerns over NHS private sector partnerships | NHS

Rishi Sunak has been warned that his plan for more partnerships with the NHS in England to reduce waiting lists would be tantamount to ‘overhauling the deckchairs on the Titanic’ without addressing the deeper structural staffing issues.

Recommendations for an elective stimulus package, released on Friday, were widely welcomed by opposition parties and health experts, but were reportedly overdue. Critics also said they only address part of the much broader capacity and staffing issues across the country’s health systems.

Acknowledging that the government is still far from delivering on one of Sunak’s five commitments – to reduce waiting lists – a health minister, Maria Caulfield, suggested the situation could get worse in the fall.

There are 7.47 million people awaiting treatment – the highest number since records began in 2007. Caulfield told LBC on Friday: “We probably expect, in all honesty, that it peaks in the next few months.”

To help achieve Sunak’s goal, plans have been unveiled for eight more private sector community diagnostic centers which the government says would be “free at the point of need” to help provide patients with more choice of places to receive treatment. Ministers also said there should be greater use of the private and third sectors in training junior NHS staff.

While the government has estimated private diagnostic centers in Bristol, Redruth, Torbay, Yeovil, Weston-super-Mare, Southend, Northampton and South Birmingham will mean 742,000 extra scans, checks and tests a year, British Medical Association argued there were serious concerns about how the plan would work in practice.

“We don’t have enough staff working in the NHS or in the private sector,” said the union’s workforce manager, Dr Latifa Patel. “Doctors working in the private sector are also under pressure, so there is no guarantee that diverting more patients to the independent sector will reduce NHS backlogs.”

She added that the situation was “the result of a failure to adequately resource the NHS and address the workforce crisis”, pointing to the threat of strike action by junior doctors and consultants.

Ben Howlett, chief executive of the Curia policy institute and a former Tory MP, said the elective stimulus package was akin to “reworking the deckchairs of the Titanic”.

He added: “Until they have fundamentally resolved the capacity and manpower issues – which requires the support of [home secretary] Suella Braverman to bring in more healthcare workers from overseas, the Health Secretary will keep trying to catch them.

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