RCPCH response to NHS Confederation and NHS Providers report on waiting times for children’s community services

NHS Confederation and NHS Providers published a report which reveals a worrying and worsening picture of waiting times for children’s community health services.
Newspaper icon on bright blue circle on dark blue background

They surveyed 65 community providers between March-April 2023 and along with NHSE’s community service data, the report reveals the ‘extraordinary pressure’ on community services. The report shows:

  • The children’s community waiting list is now growing three times faster than the adult community services waiting list. Whilst the number of adults waiting for community services has increased by 3.2 per cent since October 2022, wait lists for children and young people’s services have increased by 10.2 per cent over the same period, and there are now 227,490 children waiting.
  • Community providers estimate an average waiting time for a community paediatrics appointment of 33 weeks, with an average wait of 40 weeks for a neurodiversity appointment. There is significant regional variation, with some services reporting an average wait of 104 weeks. 
  • Respondents were particularly concerned about long waits for neurodevelopmental pathways, community paediatrics, occupational therapy, dietetics, dental services and dysphagia assessments, and the impact these long waits are having on children’s healthy development, education and life outcomes. 
  • 100% of respondents said they were either extremely concerned (77%) or moderately concerned (23%) about the impact of long waits on children and young people.
  • 97% were either extremely or moderately concerned about the impact of these long waits on staff morale.

These findings come after the children’s elective waiting list increased to over 400,000 last month, meaning there are now more than 630,000 children waiting for an appointment across elective and community care. Despite the NHS having a 0-tolerance policy for 52 week waits, we also know that over 30,000 of these children are waiting more than a year for care. 

We share the concerns outlined in the report that children’s community health services risk being overshadowed and forgotten about in national policy and system level recovery plans, and welcome the report’s call for national action, including a cross-departmental strategy for children, increased investment in prevention and early intervention, and access to additional national funding. 

In response to the findings RCPCH Officer for Health Services Dr Ronny Cheung said:

We know that children’s health services across the country are under unparalleled pressure and waiting lists continue to rise. The recent report from NHS Confederation and Providers highlights the dire situation in children’s community services, where the children’s waiting list is now growing three times faster than the adult community waiting list. That inequality is clearly unacceptable.

Community paediatrics, speech and language and mental health services have some of the highest waiting times across the whole health system, with many children waiting more than a year for care yet seems to have been forgotten about in wider recovery plans. The rise in demand for these services is unprecedented and there are now over 630,000 children waiting for either community or elective care. Child health outcomes worsening in the UK, especially for those living in socially deprived areas. We are very much failing these children.  

We need urgent investment in children’s service recovery, with a particular focus on children’s community services where waiting times are unacceptably high. It is no surprise that 100% of community providers said they were concerned about the impact of these long waits on children, and 97% were concerned about the impact on staff morale. Paediatricians are working hard to provide care for children but national action and investment for children’s community services is needed – and this must be underpinned by a detailed, fully funded workforce plan. The plan has been promised now for years, and is the ultimate opportunity for Government to tackle this ongoing crisis and make some concrete progress in NHS recovery. 

We cannot keep lurching from crisis to crisis. Now is the time to invest in children and young people’s health and in our workforce and to start thinking about the wellbeing of our future nation through concrete preventative health policies and child health focused recovery plans.