Medical Negligence

Coronavirus: The impact on NHS services and patient treatment

Estimated read time: 3 mins

Charlotte Todd, September 14, 2020

The impact of the coronavirus on the NHS has been clear for all to see, with many services such as cancer treatments, routine testing and elective surgeries being cancelled or paused while the NHS manages the fall-out from the Covid-19 pandemic.

This has helped allow the NHS to focus on the biggest healthcare crisis it has ever faced, but what are the consequences of the delays for those patients who have gone without treatment or diagnosis?

Why have so many treatments been cancelled or delayed?

There are many reasons why hospital treatments have been paused or cancelled. Initially, the main reason for the reduction in treatments and services was to ensure that the NHS had the capacity to cope with the outbreak in the UK and ensure that those patients who required immediate medical attention for Covid were able to receive it.

Resourcing has also been a major issue for the NHS. At the start of the outbreak, the NHS asked more than 65,000 former nurses and doctors to return to work in order to support patient care.

Another issue facing the NHS was funding. According to a report by the NHS Confederation, 47% of NHS trusts were in a deficit, with many struggling to meet their end-of-year financial targets for 2019/20.

Although provider debt was “written off”, many trusts’ underlying financial issues were not addressed. This left them to focus on combating the virus as they did not have the funds to provide their usual range of services and support the Covid-19 response.

Scale of the backlog

Health services in England now face the mammoth task of caring for the patients who are still sick or recovering from Covid-19, as well as restarting services to treat cancer, stroke, heart care and elective operations.

The social distancing measures now in place has made the task even more challenging. The NHS Confederation expects healthcare services will be operating at around 60% of normal capacity to ensure infection control measures are followed for patients and staff.

This may be an ambitious goal, however, as NHS England reported that the number of patients admitted for routine treatments in June 2020 was down 67% from the same time the previous year.

Analysis shared with the NHS Confederation indicates that NHS waiting lists could reach 10 million by the end of the year due to the backlog, reduced capacity and resourcing. It is thought this could be made worse by the lack of a vaccine and a second wave of Covid-19.

The average wait time of referral to treatment has almost doubled since May 2019. Patients are now waiting an average 15.3 weeks to be referred to treatment compared to 7.7 weeks the previous year.

In May 2020, there were over 26,000 people who had been waiting 52 weeks or more for their treatment, compared to 1,032 in May 2019 – an increase of over 2,400%.

How are the delays affecting patients?

Some patients who were scheduled for treatment or elective surgery now face even longer waiting lists. This could mean healthcare conditions worsen for the most ill patients.

Meanwhile, those who hadn’t been given a date for their treatment or surgery before lockdown was imposed could face an endless wait for treatment as the backlog continues to build.

First4Lawyers is dedicated to helping those who have suffered harm through no fault of their own. Come back next time when we investigate the impact the coronavirus has had on patients waiting for cancer diagnosis and treatment.

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