College President responds to Shadow Health Secretary's comments

  • 09 Apr 2024
  • Communications team

In response to comments by Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting MP in The Sun and on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme regarding Labour’s plans to make further use of independent sector providers in England to bring down NHS waiting lists, College President Professor Ben Burton said:

“Mr Streeting is right that our sole focus must be on delivering the care patients desperately need to stop their health and condition deteriorating. Almost 900,000 people are waiting for a first ophthalmology appointment in the UK, with many more waiting for crucial follow-up appointments.

“Independent sector capacity can help reduce NHS backlogs, but the unplanned and uncontrolled way in which it has been commissioned in England has hampered rather than helped this objective.  Over two thirds of clinical leads in ophthalmology NHS departments say that the impact of independent sector provision on ophthalmology patient care has been negative.

“There has been a 40% jump in the number of NHS-funded cataract procedures performed since 2019, as a result of independent sector provision. By investing so much scarce resource into treating cataracts – a reversible relatively low-risk condition – there is a risk of insufficient funding, workforce and infrastructure being available for addressing conditions such as glaucoma that can cause irreversible sight loss if not diagnosed and treated swiftly.

“A future Labour government needs to take a pragmatic approach. Learning the lessons from ophthalmology, it must ensure independent sector capacity is commissioned in a planned way where it is needed. It must also not forget that the key to ensuring long term capacity to deliver patient care is to invest in comprehensive NHS services, workforce and infrastructure.”