NHS hospital waiting lists is the priority

Pic of concerned patient on waiting list - Shutterstock

Just to put things in perspective, as a result of the UK response to a SARS-CoV-2 virus, the current NHS treatment waiting list according to the King's Fund is bigger than the entire population of Scotland, and equal to the entire population of Denmark. Deborah Ward of the King's Fund says, "Those of us who talk about it should be thinking about how we play our part in explaining how big ‘big’ really is. And in moving these numbers from the abstract to the meaningful we can engage people in the conversation, enhance their understanding of what they really mean, and, most importantly, remind them that we are talking about patients not just numbers". One person in ten is now on a hospital waiting list.

Responding to the Health and Social Care Select Committee’s new report into “Clearing the backlog caused by the pandemic”, David Hare, Chief Executive of the Independent Healthcare Providers Network, said:

“With NHS waiting lists at a record high and likely to grow significantly in light of the omicron variant, we welcome today’s Health and Care Select Committee report and join their call for a national health and care recovery plan to tackle waiting lists and improve access to care.

public’s number one priority

“Given the scale of the backlog, we need an “all shoulders to the wheel” response to reducing NHS waiting lists and the Committee’s report rightly emphasises the important role the independent health sector will have in supporting local NHS areas to increase elective activity and bring down waiting times.

“Tackling the elective backlog is the public’s number one priority for the NHS and we urge the Government to take on these recommendations and set out a clear strategy to ensure patients can access the care they need both now and in the future.”

Why is this important? The impact on the quality of life for people now having to wait up to eighteen months for basic treatments - from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome to knee surgery is obviously profound. The delivery of timely treatment is a major factor in treatment outcome.

See Have we forgotten about cancer patients?; for many cancers, early detection is critical. With lung cancer, for example, a third of cases will spread (metastasise) to the brain if left untreated.

A large part of the solution will be down to improved use of digital healthcare. However, this needs careful consideration as there is a real risk that the needs of patients can be overlooked in the rush to digitise. Telemedicine’s acceptability and safety can be improved by training for clinicians, offering patients more choice, careful selection of those patients to offer telemedicine to, and further consultation with clinicians and patients on its use.

Do we need a face to face meeting with the doctor?

The rapid digitalisation and use of telemedicine must stay, but appropriate patient selection is key, it is perfect for some but disastrous for others. It is critical to monitor the impact of telemedicine as we test the limits of digital health, in order to assess the benefits and risks. See - Do you actually need a face-to-face meeting with your GP?

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