Analysis says the NHS backlog would have reached ‘alarming’ levels even without Covid, affecting five million patients
- QualityWatch said there was pressure on the healthcare system before Covid
- They warned Covid was only accelerating the long-term course of the declining NHS
- In May, 6.61million people were waiting for routine NHS hospital treatment
- However, that is just 1.3million more than the expected number with no Covid presence
Covid cannot be blamed solely for the extent of the NHS backlog and waiting lists would still have been at “alarming” levels had the pandemic never struck, the analysis says.
Even if the virus had never arrived, the NHS in England would have expected a waiting list of around 5.3million people by the end of May 2022 due to the existing pressure on the health system, experts say.
While the waiting list is now growing “significantly faster” than before the pandemic, Covid has only accelerated the long-term trajectory of declining NHS performance, they warned.
The results come from QualityWatch – a joint program of the Nuffield Trust and the Health Foundation. His researchers say the extent of the NHS backlog cannot be attributed solely to Covid, but is a predictable consequence of the collision between a pandemic and a healthcare system already stretched beyond its limits.
Covid cannot be blamed solely for the extent of the NHS backlog and waiting lists would still have been at “alarming” levels had the pandemic never struck, the analysis says. Image: File image
NHS figures for May show 6.61million people were waiting for routine hospital treatment. But that’s just 1.3 million more than what the health service would have expected even without the arrival of Covid, analysis shows.
Similarly, the number of patients on the waiting list for diagnoses hit over 1.5 million in May 2022 — but if pre-pandemic trends had continued, that number could still have reached 1.2 million, they found.
Jessica Morris, staffer at the Nuffield Trust, said: “There is no denying the seismic upheaval that Covid has had on health and care services, but the pandemic itself cannot be considered the sole cause of the alarming wait times for care.”
Even if the virus had never arrived, the NHS in England would have expected a waiting list of around 5.3million people by the end of May 2022 due to the existing pressure on the health system, experts say. Image: File image
She said even before Covid, waiting times were increasing due to a “mismatch between demand, staff and resources”.
“At the start of the pandemic, over 4.4 million people were on the treatment waiting list,” she added. “And if current trends had continued, we probably would have had a waiting list of 5.3 million by the end of May this year.
“This reflects a long-standing mismatch between needs, staffing and resources.
“Pre-existing backlogs of routine care, increasing wait times in emergency rooms, longer ambulance response times, and wait times for cancer treatment have only accelerated during the pandemic. This has made the NHS’ recovery challenge even more daunting.
The results come from QualityWatch – a joint program of the Nuffield Trust and the Health Foundation. Image: File image
Commenting on the report, Patricia Marquis, Principal of the Royal College of Nursing for England, said: “The first thing the new Prime Minister should do after today’s announcement is to put this report at the top of his in-basket.
“The clear message is that the NHS in England was already on its knees before the pandemic and waiting lists would have gone up dramatically even without Covid.
“That points to the mismatch between basic demand, staffing and resources – something our overworked, underpaid and undervalued nursing workforce is all too aware of. And from which patients suffer. Nursing must now consider strikes to get ministers’ attention and we will be electing our members next week.’