England’s NHS Covid disruption wreaks havoc with backlog of surgeries | Hospitals
Operations are being canceled across England as Covid causes ‘major disruption’ to the NHS, the country’s top surgeon has claimed, as doctors and health officials say government backlog targets seem increasingly unachievable.
Six million people are on the waiting list for NHS hospital care, including more than 23,000 who have waited more than two years. The NHS in England is due to release its latest wait times data on Thursday.
Boris Johnson said in February he had launched “the biggest catch-up program in the history of the health service”, but in the same month he dropped all national Covid restrictions. Now record Covid rates are playing havoc with the NHS’s ability to catch up on surgery that was delayed or canceled before and during the pandemic.
More than 28,000 employees are off work every day due to Covid, according to recent figures, while more than 20,000 patients are hospitalized with Covid, which has drastically reduced the number of beds and the space available for the planned surgery patients.
“Unfortunately, Covid-19 continues to cause major disruption to the NHS, with many staff absences in recent weeks,” Professor Neil Mortensen, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, told The Guardian.
“We have heard that planned surgery is being canceled again in different parts of the country due to staff being sick with the virus. This is understandably frustrating for surgical teams who want to help their patients by rescheduling a planned surgery. It is also very distressing for patients who need a planned operation.
Ministers have promised to eliminate all waits of more than two years by July this year, all waits of 18 months by 2023 and all waits of one year by March 2025, but staff of the NHS says Covid is already derailing its efforts to deliver on those promises.
Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS providers, said pressure was ‘building up’ on the NHS across England from a ‘Covid-related triple whammy’ of staff absences, high numbers people hospitalized with Covid and delays in discharge of patients as Covid hits social services.
“This means that the NHS has not been able to consistently reach the maximum speed of backlog recovery, as we had hoped, coming out of winter,” he said. “Some trusts are now handling more elective cases than before Covid arrived, with some operating at 105% to 108% of pre-Covid activity. But others, with higher Covid impacts, are far behind that. This will impact the ability of the NHS to achieve the targets we have agreed. »
The British Medical Association has accused the government of failing to understand the seriousness of the threat Covid poses to the NHS, backlog targets and society at large.
He said that unless ministers introduce measures to reduce infection rates, such as masks on public transport and in confined spaces, and ventilation and air filtration in places public and work, pressures on the NHS would further intensify, staff absence rates would rise further and millions of patients would wait longer for treatment.
A survey of its members found that 87% of doctors said government promises to reduce waiting lists for elective care using the existing workforce were mostly or entirely unachievable.
“The government is hiding its head in the sand over the immediate threat of the virus to our health services,” said Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the board of the BMA. “It is clear that the outcome of the government’s ‘living with Covid’ strategy does not allow us to live with Covid.”
A hospital chief executive told the Guardian that ministers’ targets were “incredibly difficult”. A second said: “These targets are completely unrealistic due to staff shortages, which existed before Covid and are compounded by the number of people still reporting sick, as well as staff burnout.”
Meanwhile, an analysis of the data by the Press Association released on Thursday found that dozens of patients had been waiting for more than three years. At least nine have been on the NHS waiting list for more than four years.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents the whole health system, said the continued impact of Covid was now interfering with the NHS’s ability to tackle the backlog, and that it should be “a healthy dose of realism” about what staff might achieve.
NHS England said staff are “continuing to do their utmost” to tackle the backlog, and are also “embracing creative innovations” to ensure patients receive the care they need.