News | Published June 11 2020

Covid-19: Pandemic could double NHS waiting lists

Health experts are concerned that waiting lists for NHS treatment could double to reach ten million by the end of 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The NHS Confederation predicts that waiting lists will grow amid a backlog of cases after routine treatments were put on hold during the crisis, exacerbated by a need to adhere to new social distancing procedures when resuming services, plus staffing issues.

The body has also warned that waiting lists are likely to “rise significantly” with capacity also having to be set aside to cope with a potential second wave of coronavirus.

The waiting list for NHS services currently stands at 4.2 million and is expected to rise to ten million by Christmas, assuming the service can resume full capacity within 12 months.

The Department of Health has pledged to continue supporting the NHS with resources and vital funds, after the confederation called for emergency funding and long-term spending.

Guidance has now been published on how services for treating cancer, stroke and heart problems can safely resume, with healthcare services having been operating at a capacity of around 60 per cent during the pandemic. NHS England also published plans back in May which outlined how routine operations and treatments could return.

Yet, the NHS Confederation said that trying to restart such services has left it facing an “uphill battle”, when combined with the need to provide ongoing care for recovering coronavirus patients.

Health chiefs have therefore asked the government to inform the public that the levels of service pre-pandemic should not be expected for some time and routine services cannot simply be “switched on”.

However, cancer services have begun to reopen, while cardiology services in England have also resumed. Yet, the British Heart Foundation estimates that 28,000 heart procedures have been delayed as a result of the pandemic, meaning a considerable backlog is already in place.

For cancer, figures from Cancer Research UK suggest that 2.4 million people await screening, treatment or tests.

As it looks to relaunch routine services, the NHS Confederation has also called for reassurance on the government’s test, track and trace strategy as well as guarantees over the supply of personal protective equipment [PPE].

Its report added that a thorough review of the impact of Covid-19 on frontline staff within the health service and social care was required, amid concerns that “exhausted and traumatised” workers are still providing vital care.

A spokesperson for the Royal College of Nursing added: "The legacy of this pandemic is yet to dawn - the professionals are still focused on the here and now.

"As services begin to return, the government must continue to invest in the workforce so that an exhausted profession... is properly supported."

Meanwhile, the NHS Confederation has asked for an extension to the government’s deal which saw the private sector provide beds, equipment and staff to the NHS, ensuring additional support until March 2021.

Niall Dickson, the confederation’s chief executive, said: “Frankly, we need all the capacity we can get to try and build up services going forward."

"We're not entirely clear what the levels of demand coming out of this are. We of course know patients that were waiting beforehand, but of course we've now got a huge backlog of patients that we haven't seen and we don't know what their needs will be.”

Urging the government to intervene following warnings from the industry, Labour shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: "It is inevitable that the Covid-19 pandemic will impact our health service in the months ahead but it is vital that ministers begin to address this backlog of delayed treatment and rising clinical need.”

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Authored by

Alexander Bridge-Wilkinson
Junior Editor
June 11 2020

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