Warning as NHS ops backlog could take ‘years’ to clear with five million on waiting list

NHS doctor discusses coronavirus waiting list backlog

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The backlog of those waiting for more than a year to see a consultant or have surgery is up from 387,885 in February to 436,127 in March – the highest figure since 2007. Patients in England facing long delays for hip replacements, cataract surgery and other operations rose from 4.69 million to ­4.95 million, an increase of more than 250,000 in ­just a month.

The grim NHS England statistics will renew fears that the health of those with cancer, heart disease and other illnesses could deteriorate as they wait to get the care they need.

Daily Express columnist Dr Rosemary Leonard said: “These are awful figures and it will be years before the list starts to go down.

“I’m booking patients for 2022. After that they will be waiting many months for secondary appointments and surgery. I can’t even get tests done, the ­system is so clogged up.”

She said the “Choose & Book” ­system where patients can select appointments has ground to a halt and warned staff will have to work longer hours to ease the backlog.

Dr Leonard said: “Local hospital trusts will have to persuade doctors and nurses to work late and over the weekends.”

Cancer specialist Professor Karol Sikora believes the pandemic has wreaked havoc on the health service – particularly in his field.

He said: “It’s impossible to overstate the damage inflicted on cancer services over the last 14 months.

“Diagnosis, treatment, research – all have been profoundly disrupted which will lead to many avoidable deaths over coming months and years.

“Tens of thousands of excess cancer deaths are expected, yet politicians seem oblivious to the problem.

“If we tackled the cancer crisis with a fraction of the effort that has been diverted towards Covid-19, I am certain countless lives would be saved.”

Access to time-sensitive NHS care should be available within 18 weeks.

Speeding it up is set to be “a ­critical priority for the rest of the Parliament” and yesterday an extra £160million was announced to cut waiting times.

The Royal College of Surgeons said the figures were “stomach-churning”.

Tim Mitchell, RCS vice-president in England, blamed them on the ­suspension of many NHS services when intensive care beds were prioritised for coronavirus patients.

He said: “We’ve become accustomed to seeing the record broken each month for the number waiting for hospital treatment. But we must not forget that behind these stomach-churning numbers ­are ordinary people who have put their lives on hold.

“The figures show the impact a year of Covid has had on NHS surgery and it will take many years to get back to pre-pandemic waiting times. The recovery of planned surgery is well under way. Still, any ­prospect of ­chiselling down the list is ­premature, as new patients are presenting daily.”

NHS data also found in March that 300,000 patients in England had been waiting more than six weeks for a key diagnostic test for conditions including cancer. A total of 305,061 were waiting for one of 15 standard tests, including an MRI scan, non-obstetric ultrasound or gastroscopy.

The equivalent number waiting in March 2020 was 85,446. But there were 232,084 urgent cancer referrals made by GPs in England in March compared with 183,603 a year ago – a rise of 26 percent and the highest since records began in October 2009.

Urgent breast cancer referrals were up from 12,449 in March last year to 15,670 this year, a rise of 26 percent.

Dame Cally Palmer, NHS cancer director, said: “From Covid-friendly drugs to specialist ­radiotherapy, staff have gone to great lengths to ensure cancer treatment could continue through the pandemic. It is welcome news that more people than ever before came forward for potentially life-saving checks in March.”

Knee surgery has left me in pain

By Steph Spyro

Carer Lorraine Hili faces an “agonising wait” after the pandemic delayed her knee replacement surgery.

She has osteoarthritis and has been waiting for two knee replacements since November 2019. The first, scheduled for April last year, was cancelled due to Covid but eventually took place in August.

But Lorraine, 55, is still waiting for her second op and has no idea when it will be.

She said: “It’s so amazing to have the new knee. But it’s made me so conscious of my right knee, which is getting worse. The long wait has exacerbated the pain.”

Lorraine cares full-time for husband Rod but the pain “really impacts” what she can do. She said: “Anything from driving to the hospital – a 200-mile round trip – to paperwork can be agony.

“I’ve also been looking after my mum, who we recently paid to have a private joint replacement due to long waiting times. My husband’s talking about me going private too, but it’s £14,000.”

I feel like health service has just abandoned me

Mykola Kuc feels like “just a number” to the NHS, saying it has “abandoned” him while he is in excruciating pain.

The handyman, 60, struggles to walk to the end of his garden due to osteoarthritis in his hip, left shoulder and little toe.

He has been waiting for surgery but it’s been delayed by the pandemic.

Mykola, from Hull, said: “I’m so disappointed by the NHS system, to them I’m just a number. There should be support there but they just abandon you.

“If I can’t have surgery there needs to be better pain management. I’m worried about being housebound because of the pain. I try to explain to others what it’s like but they don’t understand.”

Comment by Amanda Pritchard

Over the past year, our incredible NHS staff have treated around 400,000 seriously ill Covid patients.

And for every patient cared for by the NHS between January and March this year, 18 other patients got treatment for non-Covid conditions.

With cases in hospitals significantly reducing, our focus is now on rapidly recovering routine services.

The good news is that early figures show local teams are already well ahead of schedule. More people than ever before were checked for suspected cancer in March. Operations and other elective activity are already at four fifths of pre-pandemic levels in April this year, well ahead of the 70 percent threshold.

This is clear evidence that NHS services were bouncing back. We want to go even further and even faster which is why we are investing £160million to find new ways to tackle waiting lists.

We will prioritise those with the most urgent clinical need and address those who have been waiting the longest – in an effort to ensure as many as possible benefit from the world-class care we provide.

Amanda Pritchard is the NHS’ Chief Operating Officer

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