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The boss of the NHS was today unable to say what a four-year-old boy with a potential 70-week wait for treatment should do.
Amanda Pritchard, chief executive of NHS England, appeared on the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme and was told about a viewer, Stephen from Harrow, whose son is on a waiting list between 50 and 70 weeks long.
His only alternative for quicker treatment is to go private and pay £3,000 - money he doesn’t have.
Asked three times by Kuenssberg what her advice to Stephen would be, Pritchard couldn’t answer the question.
She first said: “I absolutely get the frustration and as I say, I’m a patient as well. My own family are going through different bits of treatment for different things and experiencing waiting on the other side. What I would just reassure people is this isn’t an overnight fix, but we are - and I speak for all my colleagues in the health service - working tirelessly to make sure that what we have done, which is set out the most ambitious recovery plan in our history, we are continuing to deliver.”
Asked if Stephen should “scrape to try and find £3,000” or wait for a year, Pritchard only said “children and young people is an area of particular focus for us, we know the pandemic hit kids really badly…”
Asked again what Stephen should do right now, Pritchard would only say: “We are focusing on children and young people. It’s a particular focus area [to] bring down waits overall, so I am really sorry to hear about that particular example. But what I can say is we are already making big progress in reducing the longest waits.”
It comes a week after Rishi Sunak conceded on the same programme “it will take time” for the overall NHS waiting list to come down.
Sunak, who has made reducing waiting times one of his five priorities, told Kuenssberg: “It’s because we’ve had a pandemic, the backlog that ensued was always going to take some time to work through.”
Recent YouGov polling suggested 84% of Britons think the prime minister is doing badly on cutting waiting lists compared with 5% who thought it was going well.
NHS England figures released last month showed the number of people waiting to start routine hospital treatment has risen to a new record high.
An estimated 7.4 million people were waiting to start treatment at the end of April, up from 7.3 million in March.
It is the highest number since records began in August 2007.