Cash-strapped health authorities are deliberately delaying operations.
They hope that desperate patients will remove themselves from their waiting lists—either by going private or by dying.
That is the shocking conclusion of a report published last week by the co-operation and competition panel.
With the government demanding that the NHS makes £20 billion worth of “efficiency savings” this year, health bosses are increasingly turning to desperate measures to make cuts.
Patients in crippling pain, such as those needing a hip replacement, are being made to wait in agony as hospitals hope that eventually the patients will give in and pay for surgery.
And, while NHS Trusts insist that no “urgent” cases are being delayed, there is evidence that even those suffering from life-threatening diseases are having their care compromised.
A patient suffering with multiple sclerosis explained to Channel Four News that he is routinely told that waiting lists for treatments he needs are “full”.
“The whole thing is a game,” he said.
“When my neurologist refers me to a different specialist, I often get a letter to say the waiting list is full so they hold my referral off until there is a space on the list.”
In some cases, it took 18 months before he got a letter to say he was on the list and that his appointment would be in four weeks.
And even those who have been given a date for their procedures are not safe.
Some 350 routine operations were cancelled by hospitals in Leicester between April and June this year—the highest number in that quarter for five years.
Many patients only found out about the delay on the day they were due in hospital.
The high number is especially worrying as most cancellations were due to lack of beds.
Yet the April to June quarter is generally thought to be easier for hospitals as winter bugs and flu cases recede.
Some health workers in Leicester worry that the missed operations are part of trend, and that the government’s NHS reforms will make matters worse.
Health bosses in the city are struggling with an £8 million overspend.
Last week they demanded another £16 million cuts, meaning even more job losses on top of the 417 already announced.
At an emergency meeting, Malcolm Lowe-Lauri, chief executive of the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, admitted there was “some pain” in the cost cutting measures.
He then ordered in a team of highly-paid external consultants to help him slash budgets.
Following orders from the department of health, Leicester’s hospitals are bidding to become a foundation trust.
This means they will become independent from government control, and could, theoretically, be allowed to go bankrupt.
As part of their privatisation plan, the Tories insist that all hospital trusts that are not yet foundation trusts become one by 2014.
In preparation, many health bosses are desperately trying to turn budget deficits into surpluses so that they can meet strict new financial rules.
In the meantime, thousands of sick, vulnerable and worried patients are languishing on waiting lists for operations that may never come.