Technology should play a bigger role in helping the millions of people in the UK access routine operations that have been delayed due to COVID-19.
That is according to experts responding to new NHS figures which today revealed that 4.7 million people were waiting for routine operations and procedures in England in February. This is the highest level it has been since 2007.
Almost 388,000 people were waiting more than a year for non-urgent surgery compared with just 1,600 before the pandemic began, the new NHS data shows.
NHS England has allocated a £1bn fund to help healthcare trusts work through the backlog of operations.
Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director for the NHS in England, said treating 400,000 patients with Covid-19 over the course of the last year had “inevitably had an impact on the NHS”, the BBC reports.
Responding to the figures, Mark Slack, chief medical officer at CMR Surgical, a firm which is harnessing robotics to develop minimal access surgery, said: “Today’s troubling figure of 4.7 million waiting for surgery in England saddens but doesn’t surprise me.
“After a heroic effort during the pandemic the same staff now find themselves faced with a task of almost unbelievable proportion.
“With this problem set to continue long after the pandemic, I worry about the impact on my fellow surgeons. I believe surgery urgently needs a reset, and while COVID-19 has put the NHS workforce including surgeons under immense strain, now is the opportunity for change.
“For instance, keyhole surgeries can help tackle this surgical backlog in the long term, despite only being used in 50% of surgical cases. Patients of keyhole surgeries benefit from far lower complications, quicker recovery, lower risk of surgical readmission, less pain, less risk of reinfection – and a quicker turnaround of hospital beds.
“It’s essential that we give new technologies like robotics a more central role in cutting waiting times by helping to perform more of these complex surgeries, improving patient outcomes and easing the burden on surgeons dealing with this enormous backlog.”
Dr Simon Bourne, CEO and Founder of digital therapeutics firm my mhealth said of NHS England’s worrying findings: “Over the last year, the world has had to move to a virtual way of working, collaborating and connecting with one another.
“The NHS has been no exception. In its efforts to reduce the burden on the system, and increase ease and comfortability for patients it has committed to virtual consultations through digital transformation.
“As virtual appointments give patients the continued contact they are looking for, in turn, these alleviate pressures on HCPs, allowing them to spend 10-15 minutes on a video call with a patient, and immediately return to their work soon after.
“It also allows for HCPs to consult more patients in a more efficient manner. As neither party needs to be present in-person, HCPs can prioritise in-person appointments that cannot be held via video, and can focus on the ongoing work within their practice.”