Researchers claim that the pandemic turned the NHS into the ‘National Covid Service’, with six million fewer referrals in 2020 than 2019.
Now health workers are braced for a surge from pent-up demand when
It could see the waiting list rise from 4.52million as of the end of December to ten million by April, modelling by the Reform think tank and data analytics firm Edge Health suggest.
A post-lockdown surge in demand could see the NHS waiting list rise from 4.52million as of the end of December to ten million by April, research suggests. Pictured: Ambulances queue outside the Royal London Hospital in January
The number waiting on the list for more than a year is also expected to be 12,000 per cent higher by April than last March.
Health charities and the Royal College of Surgeons last night warned that patients face the ‘grim reality’ of long waits for ‘years to come’.
Patients delayed seeking care because they heeded Government calls to ‘stay home, protect the NHS’ or feared catching the virus at their GP surgery or hospital.
Meanwhile, the NHS postponed some non-urgent operations to free-up staff and beds for Covid cases.
Experts fear some people will have seen their condition deteriorate to a point where it can no longer be treated effectively, resulting in death or permanent disability.
It includes those with cancer, heart disease and mental health issues. There could be 1,660 extra lung cancer deaths alone due to the delays, the What Next For The NHS report claims.
The NHS worked hard to resume services over the summer but had to halt some non-urgent care again over winter as it struggled to cope with another wave.
The delays have led to an increase in people waiting more than a year for treatment, with waits of a year or more already up 7,139 per cent as of December, the latest month for which data is available.
Patients should be seen within 18 weeks of being referred to hospital for treatment.
Researchers describe their estimates as ‘conservative’ as they do not account for procedures cancelled this month and last.
Eleonora Harwich, director of research at Reform and a co-author, said: ‘We must never have the equivalent of a “National Covid Service” again. This is a system problem and in no way detracts from the heroic effort of NHS staff battling Covid-19.
‘However, the cessation of so much non-Covid care means patients are facing more serious health conditions or disabilities, and some will die prematurely.’
Pictured: People queue outside the Outpatients Department at the Basildon and Thurrock hospital in south west Essex, eastern England, on January 1, 2021
Reform is concerned that the NHS failed to properly use private providers to deliver non-Covid care while it battled the pandemic. It is now urging NHS England to force Trusts to publish their ‘waiting list recovery plans’, which state how independent sector capacity will be used.
Those not fully utilising this extra capacity or resources such as MRI machines to reduce the care backlog are being ‘negligent’, the think tank says.
It wants the NHS to open community diagnostic centres for cancer, cardiac and other conditions.
Those in most urgent need of care should also be identified and prioritised, it adds. The think tank is concerned that the Health and Social Care White Paper brought forward by the Health Secretary last week does not address the ballooning waiting list nor the need to boost capacity.
Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: ‘The grim reality confronting patients is that waiting lists will be long for years to come.’
Professor Neil Mortensen, President of the Royal College of Surgeons, agreed that the ‘huge surgical backlog’ could be as high as ten million.
Professor Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, said: ‘The NHS has never been a Covid only service – for every Covid patient in hospital, the NHS is treating three people for other conditions – and it is obviously a disservice to the work done by our staff who have kept services going throughout the pandemic to suggest otherwise.’
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