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UK Health Secretary steps in to offer long-term waiting list support in Wales and Scotland

The UK Government Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay has written to the devolved administrations inviting them for talks about how all parts of the UK can work together to tackle long-term waiting lists in all parts of the UK.

NHS services across the UK are a devolved matter, but Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made cutting waiting lists a priority across the UK. Although approaches taken across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland share many common features, significant variations in outcomes exist. In Wales, more than 73,000 people are waiting over 77 weeks for treatment, and at least 21,600 people are waiting over 78 weeks for an outpatient, day case or inpatient appointment in Scotland. In England, waiting times for patients over 78 weeks have been virtually eliminated.

The Secretary of State is inviting health ministers from the devolved administrations to discuss what lessons can be learnt from the different approaches taken. In England for example, NHS patients are offered a choice of provider at GP referral – NHS or independent sector – provided that it meets NHS costs and standards. And from October we will proactively notify patients waiting over 40 weeks for treatment of their right to choose to be treated elsewhere.

In his letter, the Secretary of State writes that he would be open to requests from the devolved administrations to allow patients in Wales and Scotland who are waiting for lengthy periods to choose to be treated at providers in England, NHS or independent sector – building on the current arrangements for cross-border healthcare.

The Secretary of State has also asked UK health ministers to discuss how health data can be made more comparable across the UK. Northern Ireland official counterparts have also been invited to the ministerial meeting.

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said:

I hugely value being able to share knowledge and experiences on the joint challenges facing our healthcare systems. I want to support collaboration between our nations to share best practices, improve transparency and provide better accountability for patients.

This will help to ensure we are joined up when it comes to cutting waiting lists – one of the government’s top five priorities – and will allow us to better work together to improve performance and get patients seen more quickly.

Background information

•We will work with DAs to arrange a ministerial meeting on this topic as soon as possible.

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