The number of children waiting for NHS hospital appointments has reached an all time high, the latest NHS figures show.
There are currently 403,955 children waiting for consultant-led care, of which 18,000 have been waiting for more than a year for essential treatment, the UK’s Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has warned.
The College notes that while there has been considerable progress made in shrinking the adult backlog, the children’s list ‘continues to rise at an unprecedented rate’, with ‘children not being prioritised’.
Long waits for children are of particular concern, given many treatments and interventions must be administered within specific age or developmental stages, a statement from the College said. And the data does not capture the full scale of the problem, it added, with hidden and growing waiting times for community care.
The RCPCH has called on the Government to set aside ringfenced funding for children’s service recovery at all community, elective, and urgent care levels, as well as publishing a fully-costed NHS workforce plan immediately.
‘Stuck in limbo’
The figures come as NHS England said the number of patients waiting more than 18 months fell to just 10,737 by April – down by more than 90% from 124,911 in September 2021 and by more than four-fifths since the start of January when there were 54,882.
RCPCH president Dr Camilla Kingdon said: ‘It is a national scandal that over 400,000 children are stuck in limbo on a list, waiting for treatment.
‘These children could fill Wembley stadium four times over. NHS England has a zero-tolerance policy for 52-week waits, so it is deeply concerning that these targets are being missed.
‘The clear regional variation in size of waiting lists also means that this is an equity issue for children and their families. Child health teams are working tirelessly to address the growing backlogs, but without proper support, their efforts are unable to make a meaningful dent in the problem.’
Calls for Government support
RCPCH officer for health services, Dr Ronny Cheung added: ‘It’s clear now that the voices of children are not being heard. It seems that the focus in the lead up to the next election is primarily on voting-aged adult issues.
‘Lengthy waits are unacceptable for any patient but for children and young people the waits can be catastrophic, as many treatments need to be given by a specific age or developmental stage.
‘In recent months we’ve heard about children missing school, quitting sports, and missing out on the important aspects of a healthy, happy childhood. This is not a trivial matter.’
Meanwhile, statistics published by NHS England showed that the overall elective waiting list has grown to a record high, with 7.3 million people now waiting for treatment.