Worrying times ahead for people awaiting routine or non-urgent treatment through the NHS.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to run its course, a devastating toll is being taken on the NHS, with non-COVID-19 patients affected in particular.
NHS waiting lists are now at their highest since records began, as the COVID-19 lockdown continues to prevent patients from accessing vital care and treatments. Indeed, NHS figures reveal that there were more than 1.85 million people waiting longer than 18 weeks for routine hospital treatment in England in June. This tops the previous record of 1.79 million set back in August 2007.
By law, 92% of patients are supposed to be seen within 18 weeks.
Furthermore, the number of people waiting more than 52 weeks to start hospital treatment in England also rose to 50,536 — almost double what it was a month earlier in May and the most since February 2009. In fact, the number of patients waiting more than a year to begin treatment is now thirty times higher than it was in February 2020, before the coronavirus outbreak.
Last June, only 1,089 had been waiting 12 months for treatment.
Nevertheless, there are signs that the situation at hospitals across the country is turning a corner. Hospital admissions from the waiting list fell sharply during the pandemic from 285,819 in February 2020 to only 41,121 in April 2020. But they are increasing again, with 94,354 admissions happening in June.
However, the number of patients admitted for routine treatment in hospitals in England in June is still significantly lower (67%) than it was a year ago, when 289,203 were admitted.
Having fallen during the crisis, referrals also increased in June — another sign that things could slowly be returning to normal. Referrals fell from 1.6 million in February to less than 500,000 in April. In June, however, more than 939,000 referrals took place, up on the previous month’s figure of 625,320.
Speaking about the situation, Professor Neil Mortensen, President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said COVID has been like a “wrecking ball” for NHS treatment targets.
“Long waits have a knock-on effect on patients’ families, their jobs and the wider economy. It is a real crisis,” he added.
In June, most planned surgery was suspended as hospitals tried to ensure they had capacity to accommodate a potential deluge of COVID-19 patients. Critics say the move was over-cautious and could result in widespread and more serious consequences for patients in the longer term.
The challenge now will be to protect the recovery that has been witnessed from a potential second wave of COVID-19 and ensure it continues.
We could all find ourselves on the waiting list. Please don’t wait until it’s too late. If you have been thinking about Private Medical Insurance and need help in making an informed decision, please do let me know.