Hospital treatment waiting lists have increased by more than half in the most deprived areas of England, according to data analysis 

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People living in the most deprived areas of England are nearly twice as likely to wait more than a year for hospital treatment compared with those living in the least deprived areas, analysis of the latest waiting list data by the King’s Fund shows.

The analysed data are drawn from NHS England’s Consultant-led referral to treatment waiting times data 2021–22 and the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government’s English indices of deprivation 2019.

Analysis of the number of waits of more than 52 weeks in July 2021 shows that in the most deprived quintile, 7.3% of patients had been waiting for more than 52 weeks compared with 4.02% in the least deprived quintile (1.8 times higher).

On average, waiting lists have increased by more than half (55.2%) in the most deprived areas compared with a third (36%) in the least deprived areas; the national average was 42%.

The most recent data show that 5.6 million people are currently waiting for NHS treatment, with some estimates suggesting that this backlog could reach up to 13 million in the coming months as more people come forward and are referred for treatment.

A range of long-standing social, economic, and environmental factors saw the most deprived parts of the country experienced significantly higher COVID-19 infection and mortality rates throughout the pandemic. As such, health systems in these areas were likely to face greater and more persistent disruption to services, the King’s Fund noted.

‘At the same time the long-observed “inverse care law” meant these same areas were often starting from a lower baseline of capacity and typically had populations with greater health care needs. Recent analysis on inequalities in access to care conducted by the Strategy Unit made similar conclusions, but also noted that access to NHS-funded private sector treatment is also substantially higher in less deprived areas,’ the analysis states.

Responding to the figures, Deputy Chief Executive of NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery, said: ‘It is deeply worrying that according to this analysis patients in deprived areas are nearly twice as likely to wait a year or more for planned treatment.

‘Trusts are working flat out to maintain and restore services while keeping people safe and preventing the spread of COVID-19.

‘It is vital that in addressing the care backlog, due emphasis is given to deal with disparities in access and outcomes for disadvantaged people living in the most deprived areas.’

This article originally appeared on Univadis, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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