Health

Labour to use High St opticians to cut NHS waiting lists, patients ‘faced waiting years for appointments’

Labour will direct patients to Specsavers and other opticians to reduce NHS waiting lists.

It wants private providers to carry out routine checks and scans, freeing up NHS specialists for more complex procedures.

There are currently 613,000 patients on the NHS eye care waiting list, 15,000 of whom have been waiting for over a year.

The party claims some patients have to wait up to five years for treatment, while research by the Association of Optometrists last year found that 551 patients lost their sight because they were late for their appointments.

Wes Streeting said: ‘Thousands of patients have been waiting over a year for eye care, putting their sight at risk.

There are currently 613,000 patients on the NHS waiting list for eye care, 15,000 of whom have been waiting for over a year

There are currently 613,000 patients on the NHS waiting list for eye care, 15,000 of whom have been waiting for over a year

‘High street opticians have the kit and staff to carry out basic checks and scans and Labour will work with them to get patients the treatment they need.

‘This is just one way in which Labour will reform the NHS and use excess capacity in the private sector to clear the Tory backlog and reduce NHS waiting lists.’

Freedom of Information Act requests revealed that a patient at Whittington Health NHS Trust in London had to wait five years for eye care.

Another company, at Mid and South Essex Trust, had to wait four years, the data shows.

The shadow health secretary has also proposed that doctors should be paid less for overtime to help clear the backlog in the NHS.

As part of his pledge to provide an extra 40,000 appointments and procedures a week, he proposed limiting overtime to reduce the NHS waiting list to one and a half times normal working hours.

The BMA, the doctors’ union, recommends that specialists charge a maximum of £161 an hour for extra work during the day and £269 an hour for work in the evenings and at night. That’s around three times the rate they are contracted to pay.

Although he ultimately blamed hospitals and their staff, he told the Health Service Journal he did not want them to “throw good money after bad.”

He said, ‘If we win the election [we’ll try] to give trusts and integrated care boards the freedom and flexibility to determine how best to implement these arrangements at a local level, as this looks different in different places.

“What we don’t want to do is throw good money after bad money.”

However, the Conservatives rejected Labour’s plans, adding that the Labour-run Welsh NHS had the longest waiting times in Britain.

Health Minister Victoria Atkins said: ‘If Labour had a credible plan to reduce waiting lists, they would be doing it in Labour-run Wales. Instead, waiting lists are at record highs, with patients waiting an average of eight weeks longer than patients in England.

‘This is a glimpse of what Keir Starmer’s “blueprint” for the rest of the UK looks like. A Labour supermajority gives Keir Starmer unchecked power to do exactly the same in England – and he’ll have to raise taxes by at least £2,094 per working household to fund it.

‘Meanwhile, Rishi Sunak and the Conservatives have taken bold action to reduce waiting lists at the fastest pace in more than a decade outside of the pandemic. We have recruited record numbers of doctors and nurses and opened 160 community diagnostic centres, which will carry out 7 million extra checks, tests and scans to ensure patients get the care they need.

‘Only 130,000 people considering voting Reform or the Liberal Democrats can prevent a Labour supermajority by sticking to the plan and voting Conservative on Thursday.’

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