The Daily Telegraph

NHS waiting lists would top 5m despite pandemic

- By Laura Donnelly HEALTH EDITOR

MORE than five million people would now be on NHS waiting lists even if there had been no pandemic, a report says today.

Health experts said the performanc­e of the health service was already deteriorat­ing so badly that most of the backlog cannot be blamed on Covid.

But they warned that the crisis means far more tests for diseases such as cancer are now taking places as emergencie­s – with a 30 per cent rise in such cases since February 2020.

The analysis by the Nuffield Trust and the Health Foundation suggests that the total number of patients on waiting lists would have reached 5.3million by May regardless of the pandemic. The figure is four fifths of the current waiting list, which stood at 6.7million in the most recent published data.

Researcher­s said the findings showed the health system was “already stretched beyond its limits” before the pandemic.

The study says that between 2012 and 2020, the total on waiting lists rose steadily from 2.5million to 4.6million, so if trends had continued the number would have gone above five million without the pandemic having an effect.

Many patients who did not access care during the pandemic may be yet to come forward, leaving potential for lists to grow considerab­ly further, researcher­s warned. But they said hospitals were still not carrying out as many operations and outpatient appointmen­ts as was the case before the first lockdown, with nine per cent fewer admitted patients and one per cent fewer nonadmitte­d ones.

The study warns that the number of people waiting for diagnostic tests which can spot diseases such as cancer has risen by 45 per cent since the start of the pandemic.

In total 1.57million people are now waiting for tests, up from 1.08million before the pandemic. As a result conditions are caught later, when they are less likely to be treatable.

The research shows that the number of tests and procedures taking place as emergencie­s is now 30 per cent higher than before the pandemic – suggesting cases are being spotted far later.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “NHS staff have been working incredibly hard to tackle the Covid backlogs and have treated more than 15million patients in the last year.”

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