NHS waiting lists could reach 10 million by the end of the year, possibly higher if there is a second wave of COVID-19, healthcare leaders have warned.
A report published today by the NHS Confederation warns health services in England face an uphill battle as they continue to manage thousands of sick and recovering COVID-19 patients, while restart services to treat cancer, stroke and heart care at the same, and maintaining social distancing.
The report says the challenge will be made harder as healthcare services will be operating with much reduced capacity – possibly around 60% of normal because of the need for infection control measures, including the need to adhere to social distancing measures for patients and staff.
Among other key challenges will be dealing with the backlog of treatment that has been put on hold during COVID-19, with the waiting list for routine procedures already at more than 4 million now certain to rise significantly.
Waiting lists could reach 10 million by the end of the year, possibly higher if there is a second wave of COVID-19 and a lack of treatment or a vaccine.
As the pandemic moves from an ‘emergency’ response to ongoing care and rehabilitation, patients will require social care, respiratory, psychological, and other treatment in the community.
‘NHS leaders understand the need to ease lockdown and get the country ‘back to work’. Part of this will involve restarting diagnostic screening, routine operations, outpatient appointments and other care, but we need to do this safely,’ said NHS Confederation chief executive, Niall Dickson.
‘Our members are aware that the virus is still with us and of the real risks of outbreaks in care settings. That is why we need a robust plan, communicated clearly, and trace to make sure the NHS can prepare safely, protecting its staff, patients and the wider community as it does so.
‘Political leaders have a vital role to play in reassuring the public that every step possible is being taken to manage the virus, while safely bringing back services that had to be paused. Retaining, public confidence and trust in the NHS will be vital over the next few months,’ added Mr Dickson.
‘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.’
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