Hospital backlogs and waiting lists are a huge worry – and need a clear strategy

News Desk (15 April, 2021)

The NHS needs to identify and treat the 'missing millions' who haven't accessed care

43769Jackie Summerford's major surgery has been cancelled twice in 2021.

Hospital waiting list numbers and the sheer number of people who are believed to have put off seeking urgent medical care are clear warnings that the NHS needs extra investment over the next few years, to cope with the ongoing impact of the pandemic.

Around 15,000 people are ‘long waiters’ across South-East London, still on lists after 52 weeks.

Some services in Southwark and across other NHS providers in south-east London are already back to 90 per cent capacity. Some departments are holding weekend and evening clinics to help clear a backlog, and throughout the pandemic urgent operations and cancer treatment were also coordinated with private hospitals too.

But even though the message has always been that the NHS – and A&E – is open for business, millions fewer people across the country have accessed care. There is now a very real possibility that they will see their GP or attend A&E at a more advanced stage of illness.

COVID-19 was inevitably going to cause a backlog of patients as doctors were redeployed to work in intensive care and hospitals had to manage the flow of patients into overstretched intensive care wards.

However, it is even more worrying that the backlog could get worse before it gets better, and in the next few years we could continue to see the impact – with late diagnoses and therefore more people needing urgent care.

Alongside this is a very real pressure already felt on mental health services. If people are not given the support they need in the community, this adds further pressure on A&E and acute wards if mental health problems lead into a crisis. Even the most conservative estimates show that demand will keep growing exponentially and young people are being particularly affected.

NHS staff and other frontline workers are the undisputed heroes of the pandemic – but now there needs to be a strategy to support the NHS over the next few years and to try to catch up on treatment, and find a way to identify and treat the missing millions.

Not all of this is about funding – critical as it is. It is also about ensuring staff have the right mental health support to stay in their roles and reduce absence and sickness rates where possible, it is about continuing to do everything we can to avoid a surge in COVID-19 cases and therefore hospital admissions, and it is about ensuring that people are encouraged to be proactive about getting medical help and don’t delay further.

Given surge testing happening in Southwark and Lambeth right now, it has never been more important to continue social distancing – even while enjoying all that our fantastic pubs and hairdressers have to offer.

READ MORE: Exclusive – the pandemic’s ‘invisible patients’ 


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