Lengthening NHS waiting times could lead to a rise in clinical negligence claims, the public spending watchdog warns today. But the NHS’s understanding of the looming problem is ‘limited’, according to the National Audit Office.

In a report, NHS waiting times for elective and cancer treatment, the NAO notes that the elective care waiting list grew from 2.7 million to 4.2 million between March 2013 and November 2018. The number waiting more than 18 weeks grew from 153,000 to 528,000, while, the number of people treated each month increased from 1.2 million to 1.3 million.

‘Long waiting times may lead to an increased risk of more negligence claims against the NHS,’ the report states. ‘Almost 40% of such negligence claims against the NHS are related to failures or delays in diagnosis or treatment.’

It adds: ‘However, it is not possible to identify whether delays were due to long waiting times or other factors such as missed diagnoses. Excluding maternity, ambulance and emergency cases, which are not usually related to elective care, in 2017-18 about 3,000 such claims were resolved by NHS Resolution.

‘Damages were paid in 56% of these cases, at a total cost of some £600m.’

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: ‘There has been insufficient progress on tackling or understanding the reasons behind the increasing number of patients now waiting longer for non-urgent care. With rising demand for care as well as constraints in capacity, it is hard to see how the NHS will be able to turn around this position without significant investment in additional staffing and infrastructure.’