The number of NHS patients waiting more than 18 weeks for surgery such as hip and knee replacements has risen by almost a quarter in just one year.
The statistics show more than 672,000 patients are now waiting over 18 weeks for treatment, a rise of 122,000 in just 12 months.
Next year will mark the fourth anniversary of the NHS’ 18 week referral to treatment target for planned care last being met.
The Independent Healthcare Providers Network (IHPN) said it is therefore vital that whichever party forms a new government in December, improving patients’ access to care is made a top priority.
It said key to cutting NHS waiting times will be ensuring that all available capacity in the healthcare system, including in independent providers, is used to ensure patients can access the fastest possible care.
It argued that the “misplaced politics of privatisation” must not reduce the ability for independent providers to support the NHS in delivering vital patient care.
Analysis from the network suggests that if existing annual NHS contracts with independent private hospitals were terminated it would have a significant impact on patient care, with waiting times increasing by over 50% after 12 months.
David Hare, chief executive of the IHPN, said: “With NHS waiting times at a record high it is vital that the next government prioritises cutting waiting times for patients and takes urgent action to ensure the 18-week target can be met once again. But this simply cannot be done without making use of the significant capacity available in the independent sector – cutting this vital supply off would simply lead to patients facing even greater waits for care and require in excess of 40 extra hospitals to be built just to stand still.”