According to NHS figures, the number of people who have been waiting longer than two weeks for routine operations in England has reduced from 22,500 in January to less than 200. This however does not include more than 2,500 who are complex cases or chose not to travel to speed up their treatment.
NHS England says it has been able to achieve the first significant success in its plan to eliminate backlogs caused by the pandemic. However, a record 6.6 million people are still waiting for hospital treatment.
Health experts still believe that a lot still has to be done to reduce the current number of 400,000 patients waiting more than a year as it is believed that winter will most likely bring more delays and pressure.
The next on the government’s agenda is eliminating 18-month waits currently affecting about 50,000 by April 2023.
Consultant Gavin Jennings says his hospital has adopted an innovative way in treating extra patients to bring down waiting lists. Sulis Hospital Bath has been treating more than 1,100 extra patients from seven local hospitals in the region since September.
Approaches adopted include extended theatre times, a temporary operating theatre and close relationships with the local trust. The private hospital, now owned by a local NHS trust, is making plans to take in more people from farther distances for a wide variety of orthopaedic surgery and eye procedures.
Mr Jennings said that the Omicron Covid variant, first identified in South Africa, had hit the hospital quite hard, affecting staffing levels and causing operations to be cancelled. According to him, it made people wait longer than usual and some of those cases have become more complex and symptoms worse.
Because of this, there is a need for people to recover from Covid quickly.
NHS England has also stated that in addition to the 22,500 people waiting two years or more at the start of the year, a further 43,500 who would have waited more than two years by the end of July had also been treated.
Nigel Edwards, chief executive of The Nuffield Trust independent health think tank, said: “This is a good achievement – but like getting to base camp, there’s quite a mountain to climb in terms of people waiting over a year… and over 78 weeks, which are much bigger numbers than the figure for two-year waits.”
Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: “We are working hard with the NHS to get our health system back to peak performance, by growing the healthcare workforce, opening new community diagnostic centres and surgical hubs across the country, and investing in innovative technology to ensure patients can access the treatment they need while saving staff time.”
In other parts of the UK, work is being done to reduce the longest waiting times.
The Welsh government has said that the number of patients waiting the longest have been on the decline in the last two months thanks to added staff and equipment as well as new facilities.
In Scotland, more than 10,000 people were waiting more than two years in June. This is so much more than the 648 who waited that long the year before.
A spokesperson for the Scottish government said they had introduced new targets to address the backlog and “increased the flexibility health boards and clinicians have to manage waiting lists, with a focus on eliminating long waits, as well as continuing to treat the most clinically urgent patients”.
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