ANOTHER 9,500 patients have been added to NHS waiting lists in the last year in the North East so that there are now 325,000 people waiting for operations and treatment.

It should be acknowledged that in recent months waiting lists have begun to fall but, to many patients in discomfort or agony, that slight improvement is like waiting for a supertanker to turn: it takes an age before they notice any difference and their turn comes around.

And they know that that turnaround could easily be blown off course: the doctors’ strike goes unresolved, causing 91,048 appointments in February to be rescheduled. It has been dragging on for a year, with the loss of two million appointments.

How Rishi Sunak must now wish that when he made his pledge in January 2023 about cutting waiting lists, he had rolled up his Health Secretary’s sleeves, taken a political hit, and got the strike sorted. Imagine, after a benign winter, without prolonged cold spells or major outbreaks of seasonal illnesses, where the waiting list statistics could have been today.

The public are more on edge about the size of these waiting lists because they indicate that our healthcare system is not in a fit state to cope if it were to be hit by a severe winter or, God forbid, another pandemic.

Polls consistently show that the NHS is the people’s number one priority, and figures such as these do little to convince voters that the Government either understands the people’s concerns or is able to get a grasp on them and really turn this supertanker around.