Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Spotlight
  2. Healthcare
12 July 2022

Why are the Tory leadership candidates not talking about NHS waiting lists?

As Conservative hopefuls bicker over culture wars, the National Health Service is falling apart at the seams.

By Zoë Grünewald

While the Conservative leadership contenders bicker over whether human rights are a good thing and whether we can still say the word “mother”, one has to sit back and wonder: can they not see the more immediate problems facing this country? We are approaching the hottest week on record here in the UK, with some predictions suggesting we may see temperatures climb to 43ºC. On Friday, it was reported that energy bills could reach more than £3,300 a year by January 2023 – with no end to the energy or cost-of-living crises in sight.

Of course, some of these issues are part of broader problems that require international cooperation, but there are other pressing crises emerging that start, and finish, at home. At present, there are around seven million people across the UK on NHS waiting lists. A&E waiting time are the highest they’ve been since records began – with over 25 per cent of people waiting four hours or more to be seen. And Bowel Cancer UK has reported that, alone, the cancer care backlog currently affects more than two million people across the country.

At the end of June, the NHS announced it would offer patients who have been waiting more than two years for surgery the chance to travel to receive treatment, in an attempt to speed up access pathways. But, for some, this is simply not enough. The former leader of the British Medical Association, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, warned last month that little could be done to address the “once-in-a-generation backlog of unimaginable proportions” without addressing the lack of staff, burnout and a shortage of beds. He pointed out that there were already 100,000 vacancies in the NHS in England, and doctors were “utterly exhausted” as their well-being was at “rock bottom”.

Back in April, the House of Commons health and social care committee warned that delayed treatment and diagnosis in cancer services will “almost certainly” lead to many preventable deaths. Spotlight reported that “without sufficient action, more than 340,000 people between 2019 and 2028 may miss out on an early cancer diagnosis, which the committee deemed “the single most effective way to improve overall survival rates”.

The backlog is in part due to staff shortages, but also a lack of beds, facilities and equipment. According to Siva Anandaciva from the King’s Fund think tank, since the 2008 financial crash, the NHS has fallen into a “vicious cycle”, where various “hard-fought gains” – such as meeting the four-hour A&E waiting time and the 18-week standard of referral for treatment targets – have eroded.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

Our political leaders’ refusal to engage with these crises will result in millions of people being plunged into poverty and many unable to access the care so desperately needed. A navel-gazing focus on waging culture wars, bragging about supposed tax cuts and pledging to scrap net zero is not just petty leadership politics – it will have real, catastrophic consequences for the coherent policymaking this country so desperately needs.

Content from our partners
Building the business case for growth
“On supporting farmers, McDonald’s sets a high standard”
City of London Corporation brings stakeholders together to drive climate action

The Labour party leader, Keir Starmer, dubbed the contest an “arms race of fantasy economics”, and he is not wrong – the Tory contenders care more about appealing to the right wing of the party, and the backbenchers, than they do about the UK.

Boris Johnson’s resignation was an opportunity for those in the governing party to refocus their minds in a time of crisis. Instead, the leadership contest has become a self-indulgent battle that illustrates just how out of touch much of the party has become.

[ See also: The NHS is under strain from Covid once again ]