More than 50 new surgical hubs will open across England to help “bust” the COVID backlogs, Health Secretary Steve Barclay has said.
The new hubs will provide at least 100 more operating theatres and 1,000 more beds, with the target of delivering almost two million extra routine operations over the next three years, he added.
The beds will be allocated for planned operations, which the government hopes will reduce the risk of short-notice cancellations.
The announcement comes amid pressure on the government to tackle the backlog, following major disruptions to the NHS during the pandemic, which caused operations to be cancelled and delays to treatments.
Mr Barclay said: “In order to bust the COVID backlogs and keep pace with future demands, we can’t simply have business as usual.”
The new surgical hubs will focus mainly on providing high-volume, low-complexity surgery, such as cataract surgeries and hip replacements, and will be located on existing hospital sites.
Currently, 91 surgical hubs have already been opened, meaning in total more than 140 hubs will be open across England by 2024/25.
Amanda Pritchard, NHS chief executive, has described the surgical hubs as a “vital part of plans to recover elective services across England”.
NHS data from earlier this month revealed severe delays in routine hospital treatments, with the number of people waiting for them to begin in England rising to a record high.
A total of 6.7 million people waited to start treatment at the end of June – up from 6.6 million in May and the highest number since records began in August 2007.
However, NHS England said the number of people waiting two years or more for treatment has been dramatically reduced as part of its plan to tackle the backlog.
Despite this, the number of people waiting more than a year, in May, was more than 330,000, compared to 1,613 in Feb 2020, before the pandemic.
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The government has also faced criticism over how it is handling lengthy waiting times for ambulances. NHS data earlier this month revealed that ambulances took almost an hour on average to respond to emergency calls in England last month.