Health bosses in England say the COVID-19 crisis could result in as many as 10 million patients (c. one in six people) waiting for NHS treatment by the end of the year — double the number waiting now.
According to projections by the NHS Confederation, the number of people on NHS waiting lists is expected to rise from 4.2 million currently to almost 10 million by Christmas. It is worth noting that this projection assumes the health service will make a steady return to full capacity within the next 12 months.
Formerly the National Association of Health Authorities and Trusts, the NHS Confederation is a membership body for organisations that commission and provide NHS services. It says that a backlog of cases, the need to maintain social distancing and staffing levels will all contribute to the large rise in people waiting.
Precautions put in place to combat the spread of COVID-19 are forcing hospitals to redesign buildings and remove beds to keep patients safe as they restart routine services. Furthermore, steps to minimise infections mean only half the usual normal number of operations per day can be carried out.
NHS currently at 60% capacity
The NHS Confederation says that healthcare services are currently operating at around 60% capacity because of infection control measures associated with the coronavirus pandemic. To help it cope, NHS England previously signed a nationwide contract with private healthcare companies to allow it to benefit from beds, equipment and staff until at least next March. Whether this deal will be extended beyond its original date is currently under discussion.
All of this comes as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently announced further easing of lockdown restrictions in England. Under the eased plans, zoos and drive-in cinemas are amongst the businesses being allowed to open from Monday 15 June.
However, health leaders have warned the public not to expect a resumption of full NHS services for many months. While some cardiology services have restarted in England recently, the British Heart Foundation warns of a backlog of procedures, with an estimated 28,000 patients having seen their treatment delayed since the start of the coronavirus outbreak.
Will there be a second wave of coronavirus infections?
Meanwhile, some cancer services are also starting to reopen. However, Cancer Research UK estimates that about 2.4 million people are currently awaiting screening, treatment or tests, with a potential 23,000 cancers having gone undiagnosed during lockdown.
The charity added that care was currently being delivered by “exhausted and traumatised staff”. To make the situation worse, it still remains unknown whether the UK will experience a second wave of coronavirus infections. Obviously, a raft of new infections would inevitably put already struggling health services under even more pressure and could further increase NHS wait times.
As we’ve already seen in the fact that private healthcare providers are helping the NHS deal with the current crisis, the private sector has a key role to play in supplementing and supporting the health service. As the nation continues to deal with the COVID-19 crisis, Private Medical Insurance stands to play a vital part in the recovery to health as waiting lists grow within the NHS.
I joined Premier Choice Group as an SME/Corporate Consultant in 2017 and look after the Healthcare & Protection needs of a nationwide portfolio. I began my career in Healthcare and Protection in 1985 with BUPA, before moving on to Royal & Sun Alliance. In 2002, I became an Intermediary and worked with Private Clients, SME’s and Corporate clients on a local, national and international basis.