Patient waiting lists hit a record high according to data from NHS England and NHS Digital.
Figures showed the NHS performed 40 per cent fewer heart operations once lockdown was announced in January 2021, and a total of 4.59m people are waiting for hospital treatment – the highest since records began in 2007.
The number of emergency admissions dropped to 445,600 in January – 20 percent down compared with last year’s figures for the same month..
The figures from NHS England and NHS Digital paint a picture which showed clinics treating urgent cases such as cancer had to close, and the number of people attending outpatient clinics dropped by up to 50 per cent.
The statistics were taken from the A&E Attendances and Emergency Admissions January 2021 statistical commentary.
David Ezra, co-founder & head of transformation at Vantage Health, said the NHS had been struggling to cope with demand even before the pandemic set in.
And he said that despite the waiting list figures, the pandemic had proved clinicians’ willingness to think differently and communicate better.
He said key stakeholders are now accustomed to meetings over video which previously could have taken weeks to arrange.
David said: “As we believed would happen this year, waiting lists have significantly increased due to the knock-on effects of Covid-19. This is because clinicians and consultants went from treating patients in outpatient clinics and dealing with the backlog, to treating patients with Covid-19.
“Clinics treating urgent cases such as cancer were then closed for a time, which resulted in hospitals not being able to hit their waiting list targets which continue to increase. The NHS also faces a target of reducing outpatient attendance by up to 50 per cent.
“But even before the pandemic, the NHS was struggling to deal with waiting lists, with long delays to patients receiving treatment and an inability to prioritise care.
“There was an inefficient use of resources, with a large administrative burden on clinicians. Our healthcare system has been in a false sense of security for a long time. Although guidance has been developed to help with issues like managing the flow of patients, the NHS hasn’t been taking the situation seriously enough.
“Now, of course, circumstances have become much worse with Covid-19. As patients live with symptoms for longer, we’ve been aware of a growing hidden pent-up demand for outpatient appointments through our extensive work with clinicians, consultants, trusts and CCGs.
“Once the pandemic subsides this demand will reappear on the formal waiting lists, as it has started to do with this latest data. The current stats only show the patients officially registered by hospitals as needing treatment, not those yet to be diagnosed. Numbers on the waiting list for an outpatient could possibly double.
“While the NHS is in a perilous position, it is not beyond saving. It’s about getting to the root of the problem, rather than treating the symptom. That means we need to act now with proven solutions that use NHS resources in a smarter way, for the long-term benefit.
“Solutions implemented during Covid-19 to manage patient pathways have shown that numbers could be reduced by 30-40 per cent through effective care pathways. For example, GPs could arrange tests prior to an OP visit, pass the results and symptoms to a specialist for an initial review before the patient has to attend. One outcome may be a visit (from our research less than half) but another may be immediate advice on treatment. This could be a prescription, meeting with a physio, or further tests. Freeing clinical time to work on the waiting list.
“If we can take one positive outcome of the pandemic, it is people’s willingness to think differently and communicate far better. Meetings that would have previously taken weeks or months to set up are now taking place over video with key stakeholders. The opportunity (and need) for transformation is now.”