August 06, 2020

Coronavirus: NHS waiting list could more than double to 10 million by Christmas, warn health chiefs

June 10, 2020

Ten million people could be on waiting lists for NHS treatment by Christmas, health bosses have warned.

The combined effects of following social distancing measures, a backlog of treatments and staffing challenges are the main factors that will cause waiting lists to swell, a report by the NHS Confederation said.

According to the organisation representing health and care leaders, this is the most realistic scenario - and it would more than double the 4.2 million people who are currently waiting for treatment.

Even under the best-case scenario, where there is a faster return to normal, it is anticipated that the waiting list will rise to eight million by the end of the year.

The most pessimistic scenario assumes there will be a lack of treatments or a vaccine for COVID-19 and a second wave of infections, pushing the waiting list to 11 million.

Health leaders want the government to warn the public that they should not expect the same level of service from the NHS for many months.

England in particular "faces an uphill battle" as it contends with thousands of sick and recovering coronavirus patients while also trying to treat cancer, stroke and heart disease patients.

In a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the NHS Confederation warned it is not possible to just "switch on" services immediately - adding that some departments will only be able to operate at about 60% of normal levels.

Some NHS staff are so exhausted and traumatised from caring for coronavirus patients that they will need support.

NHS Confederation chief executive Niall Dickson said: "The NHS wants to get back to providing these vital services - the virus has inflicted pain and suffering throughout the UK, but we also know the measures to combat it have come at a terrible cost to those who have not been able to access the care, treatment and support they need and to many whose conditions have gone undiagnosed.

"There is a real determination to rise to this challenge, but it will need extra funding and capacity, not least in rehabilitation and recovery services in the community where so much of the coming demand will be felt."

Despite "recent short-term financial commitments", many hospitals say their financial position is rapidly deteriorating, the confederation's report added.

The NHS Confederation recommended:

  • The current deal with the independent sector is extended until the end of the financial year "to provide capacity to support the NHS to manage the backlog of treatment"
  • Further assurances are given about the availability of personal protective equipment, as well as the effectiveness of the Test and Trace programme
  • Nightingale Hospitals are maintained in case there is a new spike in coronavirus infections
  • A review into "burnout and wider wellbeing" across the NHS and social care workforce is launched

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A Royal College of Nursing spokesman said: "For burnt-out nursing staff on short-staffed wards, care homes or clinics, it will be a struggle to restart services.

"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 - already facing 40,000 vacancies at the start of this pandemic - is properly supported."

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: "Ministers need to take heed of these warnings from NHS leaders now.

"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."

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "Guidance has already been issued to the NHS on how they should start to restore urgent services in a safe way.

"We will continue to provide the resources, funding and support our health service needs."

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