According to NHS figures, at the start of the year, the number of citizens living in England who have been waiting to get their routine operations done for more than two years was 22,500, but now the count has declined to below 200. These figures do not include over 2,500 citizens who are in critical condition and decided not to travel for speedier treatment and recovery.
As per the NHS, it has successfully achieved its first milestone as it planned to eliminate backlogs affected by COVID-19. But still, a count of around 6.6 million are reportedly in a queue to get their treatment done. Health professionals pointed out that presently around 400,000 individuals are waiting for more than a year, which indicates that there is still a mountain to climb to lower that count. Winter might be the reason to bring more pressure and delays in this process.
The government aims to eliminate the number in waiting over the last 18 months by April 2023, which currently affects around 50,000 individuals. This waiting list soared over the last two years because of the canceling of operations as hospitals need to free-up their beds for COVID patients. This condition results in forcing individuals to spend thousands of pounds for their personal treatment.
Patients in England have been offered travel as well as accommodation costs they need to get treatment in an alternative part of the nation. The intention behind this initiative was to reduce the backlog. In England, many patients for surgical procedures have been sent to private hospitals. On the other hand, community diagnostic centers are provided to thousands of patients for checkups and scans.
The NHS assured that it would “virtually eradicate” the long queue of individuals waiting for treatment by the end of July.
The list has now reduced to 168 patients, mostly living in South-West England. This is one of the areas in the UK which affected more individuals due to the absence of medical staff and pressure on the healthcare service.
Private hospitals, which are now owned by a local NHS trust, aims to treat individuals travelling long distances for various eye and orthopedic operations.
Gavin Jennings, clinical director and consultant in Bath, said, “It’s been a lot of hard work.”
He further added that the Omicron variant of COVID, which was first identified in South Africa, has impacted the hospital, which ultimately caused operations to get canceled and negatively impacted staffing levels as well.
Mr. Jennings said it is important to recover from COVID quickly because some of the individuals waiting in queue are now in a critical condition and their symptoms can get even worse due to a longer waiting time.
According to the NHS, by the end of July, 43,500 individuals who waited for more than two years, had been treated.
Amanda Pritchard, chief executive at the NHS, said that there is improvement in health services as it reforms its way of treating patients. This improvement includes using innovative techniques and implementing pioneering technology such as robot surgery. But there is a sign of an increase in the demand for other services.
Saffron Cordery, the interim chief executive of NHS Providers representing hospital trusts, told the BBC that there is a long way to go with community, mental health, and hospital care backlogs, and to ease pressure on ambulance facilities.
She said that reducing waiting times of cancer diagnosis and eliminating 78-week waits was the main concern. But, if the government did not increase investments in the NHS, then that progress might be at risk and difficult to achieve.
Nigel Edwards, chief executive of The Nuffield Trust, an independent health think tank, said that even if it is a great achievement, there is still a mountain to climb when it comes to citizens waiting for more than 52-78 weeks, still represents relatively large numbers than the count for 2-year waits.
The Welsh government said that the number of patients in Wales waiting for the longest time has reduced over the last two months because of new facilities, more hospital staff, and better equipment.
In Scotland, compared to a year ago, the number of patients who have been waiting for longer than two years reached over 10,000 in June from 648. A Scottish government spokesperson said that they have come up with a new target to address the backlog and have elevated the flexibility of clinicians and health boards to look after waiting lists. These healthcare professionals would aim to eliminate waits and continue to treat patients that clinically need urgent assistance.