Patients in Scotland and Wales could be offered treatment in English hospitals after Health Secretary Steve Barclay accused devolved governments led by opposition parties of failing to cut waiting lists.
He has written to Welsh and Scottish health ministers pointing out that the NHS in England has almost abolished waits of more than two years – while the other nations have failed to follow suit.
Health in Wales is run by the Labour devolved administration while in Scotland it is the responsibility of the SNP Government.
Mr Barclay said in the letter: “We must continue to take steps to support the NHS and reduce waiting times to ensure no part of the UK is left behind.
“I am therefore concerned by the variation in performance across NHS services.”
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The number of patients waiting more than 18 months in England has fallen to 7,177, from a post-Covid high of 123,969 in 2021.
But 73,000 people are waiting more than 77 weeks in Wales, and 21,600 people are waiting over 78 weeks for an outpatient, day case or inpatient appointment in Scotland.
Patients in Scotland and Wales are usually not automatically eligible for non-emergency healthcare in England.
But Mr Barclay said in the letter: “I would also be open to considering any request from you for patients waiting for lengthy periods for treatment in Scotland and Wales to be able to choose from alternate providers in England – NHS or independent sector – in line with the approach we are taking here, and building on the existing arrangements for cross-border healthcare.”
Other nations could follow the example of NHS England, which gives patients the legal right to choose their provider for many treatments, including private healthcare firms that meet NHS standards and costs, he said.
Welsh Secretary David TC Davies said: “Sir Keir Starmer has said the Welsh Labour Government is his ‘blueprint’ for the whole of the UK. That couldn’t be a more terrifying prospect.”
While the number of people experiencing the longest waits has fallen in England, total NHS waiting lists are at a record high. Data published by NHS England shows 7.6 million people were waiting to start treatment at the end of June, up from 7.5 million in May.
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