Waiting lists: a mountain to climb!
A dramatic drop in the number of urgent cancer referrals, coupled with soaring waiting times for treatment due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, seems likely to put an already stretched NHS under massive pressure over the coming months and into the winter.
Fears over contracting the virus, along with concerns about overburdening NHS staff, has resulted in far fewer people seeking medical help for potential cancer symptoms over the past two months. A total of 79 573 urgent cancer referrals were made by GPs in England in April 2020, down from 199 217 in April 2019, according to newly released NHS figures. This amounts to a fall of 60 per cent!
The dramatic reduction in the number of urgent referrals and the drop in people receiving treatment on time in April indicates that tens of thousands of patients are in a backlog needing vital cancer care.
Recent figures also reveal that the number of NHS patients waiting more than 18 weeks for treatment has now risen above 1.3 million – up from 860 309 in March – the highest number since January 2008. Hundreds of thousands of patients waiting for routine surgery, as well as more urgent cancer treatment, mean the NHS has a mountain to climb in reducing hospital waiting lists.
The numbers of patients seeking urgent care is still well below what would be expected for this time of year. More than half of all current patients are waiting more than six weeks for a diagnostic test and this, combined with the postponement of much planned treatment, it is a potent mix. These issues are likely to have significant consequences for both patients and hospitals as they pivot to manage the pressures of COVID-19 and attempt to establish working zones free from COVID-19 cases.
What can be done to rise to the challenge? All suggestions welcome.