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Trusts reduced the number of 65-week breaches by around 20 per cent and cut the overall elective waiting list between October and mid-December, NHS England claimed this week, citing provisional data.

NHSE’s version of events is, broadly speaking, that productivity would be respectable if it wasn’t for the significant time lost to strikes over the last 12 months.

Of course, the actual amount of activity lost to industrial action is hotly disputed. And the provisional data published by NHSE on 2 January does come with a hefty health warning of possible “significant issues regarding the quality and completeness” of the figures.

But the data certainly suggests on face value that the number of 65-week waiters fell from around 114,000 on 8 October to around 93,000 by 17 December.

Sources familiar with the provisional data admit it is not as accurate as the official referral to treatment statistics but insist it gives an accurate picture of the direction of travel.

Of course, the data for late December and January will be disrupted by the three-day strike over the festive period and unprecedented six-day January strike and all the usual other winter pressures.

But, if these figures survive validation, trusts are to be commended, not least because progress on long waiters had stalled significantly in the summer and autumn.

Not so special

Specialised medical treatments are disproportionately distributed, with residents in certain rural areas missing out on essential care while Londoners receive a significantly greater share, according to NHS England data.

The main problem is the consistent lack of access in remote communities, leading to unmet demand for this support.

However, a more nuanced analysis reveals additional factors contributing to this disparity. Issues such as coding and reporting practices, year-to-year fluctuations, and flaws in the formula used for calculations are also muddying the overall picture, according to sources.

This disparity is coming to light as NHSE prepares to allocate funds for specialised services through integrated care boards, a departure from the direct negotiations with provider trusts that have been in place since 2013. Recent figures published by the national body compare the current spending for each integrated care system with the predicted expenditures based on the new allocation formula.

South East London surpasses its “fair share” by 22.2 per cent, marking the highest deviation, while regions such as Bedfordshire, Luton, Milton Keynes, Dorset, Northamptonshire, and Somerset lag behind by more than 10 per cent. Even West Yorkshire, housing the prominent Leeds Teaching Hospitals, is 11.3 per cent below its fair share.

Notably, London stands out as the region exceeding its target by 9.8 per cent, while the North East and Yorkshire trail the furthest behind at 5.6 per cent below their respective targets.

Also on today

The historic treatment of sickle cell patients is often cited as a prime example of the neglect shown towards the Black community, with patients often feeling misunderstood, stigmatised and ignored, writes Pippa Nightingale. And we report that the CEO of a children’s hospital trust has taken an interim role leading a general acute provider in the same system, whose substantive chief is “undertaking an assignment with NHS London on provider collaboratives”.