Just one in 350 patients treated on flagship scheme to cut NHS backlog, as mum left waiting three years for surgery

7 February 2024, 06:16

Anastasia has been waiting three years for an operation
Anastasia has been waiting three years for an operation. Picture: LBC/Alamy

By Connor Hand

Just one in 350 of the long-waiting patients across England have benefitted from the government’s flagship policy to tackle the NHS backlog, LBC can reveal.

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In October 2023, Rishi Sunak launched the Patient Initiated Digital Mutual Aid System (PIDMAS), which offers patients the choice to travel across the country to access treatment from other providers if they have waited more than 40 weeks for treatment.

However, data from almost 100 NHS England trusts has raised serious questions about the viability of the scheme. Of the 225,000 patients eligible for PIDMAS at these trusts, only 643 have been able to secure a referral elsewhere.

That equates to just 0.3% of people.

NHS trusts have told LBC a lack of overall capacity across the system means despite interest from patients, few have been able to secure an appointment.

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Anastasia has been waiting for years for surgery
Anastasia has been waiting for years for surgery. Picture: LBC

Tim Mitchell, the President of the Royal College of Surgeons, said: "Because all hospitals are stretched, it is no great surprise to find there is not adequate capacity even in other hospitals when patients are given that choice."

He added: “Increasing that capacity, which is not just about operating theatres, but is about having the necessary staff to run those facilities - more surgeons, anaesthetists, and theatre staff... [means] there wouldn’t be a need for patients to look somewhere else for their treatment.”

On Monday, Buckingham Palace announced that King Charles III had been diagnosed with a form of cancer that was detected while undergoing elective treatment for an enlarged prostate. It is estimated that around 27,000 people on the NHS waiting list, which currently stands at 7.7 million, are living with undiagnosed cancer.

Earlier this week, the Prime Minister conceded that his government “haven’t made enough progress” clearing the backlog and blamed NHS strikes for exacerbating the problem.

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LBC’s data shows that over 60% of trusts have failed to refer a single patient to another provider through PIDMAS.

Anastasia Tempest, from Leeds, has waited for more than three years for an operation and told LBC she’d ‘do anything’ to get it done quicker.

"I feel like I can’t be as efficient as I’d like to, the pain is absolutely excruciating and I can’t do anything.

"I have had to put a pause on my life - I’ve got lots of plans and ideas, things that I can’t do and it frustrate[s] me.

"There’s such a lack of joined up thinking and when I hear Rishi Sunak speaking about the waiting lists coming down, I don’t believe him.

"I’ve been left with very little communication and I’m still waiting. If someone said to me they had space in another hospital, I would be there very, very quickly."

Caller tells Ben Kentish she's been on an NHS waiting list for half of her life

In August, the government announced that it would expand the use of the private sector to tackle the waits being faced by people across England, but industry figures feel the interaction between independent providers and the NHS could be improved.

David Hare, chief executive of the Independent Healthcare Providers Network complained that patients have to jump through too many hoops to secure an appointment through the scheme.

"Fundamentally, like with many things in the NHS, [PIDMAS] needs to be made more sophisticated and more streamlined, [with] better use of technology… I know that is the direction of travel, and where the NHS wants to get to, but at the moment it is a little bit cumbersome.

"There’s also quite a lot of work for the patient to do in order to secure the quicker slot. As we move ahead, we will be working with the NHS to make sure that system is as sophisticated as it can be and to ensure patients can move with minimal cost."

Labour’s shadow health secretary, Wes Streeting, accused the Prime Minister of breaking another promise.

"Under the Tories, patient choice is a mirage," he said.

"After 14 years of Conservative governments running down the NHS, all parts of the service are broken. A choice between waiting 15 months or 16 months for treatment is no choice at all.

"Labour will cut waiting lists across the NHS, with 2 million more evening and weekend appointments a year, paid for by abolishing the non-dom tax status. We will give every patient a real choice, not just a choice between a rock and a hard place.”

In response, an NHS spokesperson said: "NHS England launched the Patient Initiated Digital Mutual Aid System (PIDMAS) in October 2023 as part of our commitment to deliver greater patient choice… meaning some of the longest-waiting patients can be seen sooner.

"The latest data shows that there were 60,000 fewer patients waiting for care in November than in the previous month.”

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