Urgent action is needed in the NHS to meet a ballooning backlog of procedures put on hold during the pandemic and build a more resilient health care system, a report by Reform has revealed.
What’s next for the NHS?, produced jointly with Edge Health, found that six million fewer patients were referred to treatment in 2020 than in 2019.
The research, which included contributions from 21 medical leaders and organisations, predicted that cancellations of diagnostic testing and delayed treatment may lead to 1,660 extra deaths from lung cancer alone.
While 10m patients could be on a waitlist by April and the number of people waiting more than a year for treatment may rise 12,008% by April.
The think tank is calling on the government to address structural issues in the NHS in order to better respond to future crises, including any further waves of hospitalisation due to Covid-19.
Responding to the report, Dr Layla McCay, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, said: ‘The NHS faces a mammoth task to recover the treatment backlog that has built up during the pandemic – this would need to more than double in size in the next three months if Reform’s prediction of it reaching 10m by April is to materialise.
‘The NHS has operated at the top of its capacity for far too long and it will take years to get through the backlog as it currently stands and this is before the hidden waiting list of people who have not yet come forward for treatment is factored in, the size of which is not yet known.
‘Hospitals in England cared for over 242,300 people with coronavirus in the last year, services in the community are supporting a growing list of people with long-lasting symptoms to recover, and all parts of the NHS have been delivering the largest vaccination programme this country has ever seen.
‘But despite these challenges, it is plainly not the case that the NHS has been a COVID-only service. In December and January alone, the NHS in England performed over 6 million elective operations, treated over 280,400 people for cancer, and supported over 18.8 million admissions into A&E.
‘Although cases of coronavirus are continuing to decline, the threat of future waves remain, and experts are clear the disease will never go away completely. Increasing acute bed capacity is vital but it is far from being the only solution.
‘As we explained in our letter to the Prime Minister last week, a long-term plan to grow the NHS workforce is needed too, as well as additional investment in community, primary, ambulance and mental healthcare. And we finally need a solution to end the crisis in social care.
‘Also, a continuation of the NHS’s successful relationship with the independent sector will be essential. The deals that have been put in place have enabled over 2.6 million operations, consultations, scans, tests, and chemotherapy sessions to be carried out since last March.
‘Health leaders and their teams will continue to do everything they can for their patients and they are committed to transparency but imposing another mandatory reporting requirement on their staff on the second year of a global crisis helps no one, particularly at a time when the government has said it is committed to stamping out unnecessary bureaucracy.
‘There is a long road ahead and solutions should be focused on supporting the NHS to recover in a realistic, safe and manageable way and on ensuring the workforce is looked after following everything it has been through.’
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