More than 15million patients are waiting for treatment on NHS’s ‘hidden’ waiting list

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More than 15million patients are currently waiting for treatment on the NHS‘s ‘hidden waiting list’ – nearly four times higher than the official 3.9million, a report claimed today.

Freedom of Information requests to NHS trusts have put the total number of people awaiting follow-up hospital appointments at 15.3million.  

Bahman Nedjat-Shokouhi, the chief executive of healthcare tech company Medefer, which calculated the new data, called the official list ‘the tip of the iceberg’.  

It follows reports of patients unable to get key appointments during the pandemic, with thousands having had NHS care postponed or cancelled this year as the health service became almost wholly committed to treating Covid patients. 

Recent government figures revealed that the lockdown killed two people for every three that died of the coronavirus between March 23 and May 1, with 16,000 dying because they didn’t get medical care while 25,000 died of the virus. 

Freedom of Information requests to NHS trusts have put the total number of people yet to have their first hospital appointment after a GP referral at 15.3million (stock)

Speaking to The Times, Mr Nedjat-Shokouhi said: ‘Almost four times the number of patients need appointments, as the official figures capture only the new referrals and not the patients who require ongoing care.

‘We need a plan to deal with both groups to avoid patients coming to harm.’

The official waiting list shows the number of patients yet to have their first hospital appointment after a GP referral.  

It stands at 3.9million and has remained stable during the pandemic. But long waits have increased, with the number of patients waiting more than a year standing at 50,536 in June, compared with 1,643 in January, before the pandemic hit.

Bahman Nedjat-Shokouhi - the chief executive of healthcare tech company Medefer, which calculated the new data - called the official list 'the tip of the iceberg'

Bahman Nedjat-Shokouhi – the chief executive of healthcare tech company Medefer, which calculated the new data – called the official list ‘the tip of the iceberg’

However, the total number of patients who are on hospital books in England and need a follow-up appointment for health problems is not accumulated centrally. This is the so-called ‘hidden’ waiting list.

The Times reported the 15.3million figure was calculated by asking NHS trusts how many patients who needed a follow-up appointment – but were not captured in the official waiting lists known as the ‘referral to treatment pathway’ – were on their lists. 

They added there is no suggestion all 15.3million are overdue an appointment. 

One in seven trusts replied, and analysts extrapolated the national figure by weighting those trusts’ figures according to the proportion of national GP referrals they received. 

NHS Providers chief Miriam Deakin said: ‘It’s certainly a concern that many treatments had to be delayed at the height of the pandemic, and trust leaders are keenly aware of how disruptive and distressing this has been for patients.

‘We also know that some patients chose, for a variety of reasons, not to come forward to seek treatment or advice during lockdown in particular, and referrals to trusts have dropped for a number of conditions.

Thousands of clinical trials to find life-saving drugs and therapies for cancer and heart disease have been stopped because of Covid-19, scientists warn 

Thousands of trials to find new treatments for diseases including cancer and heart disease have been halted because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Seven in 10 NHS research projects have been affected by the coronavirus outbreak, an analysis by Southampton University found. One in 10 — a total of 1,500 including clinical trials of new medicines as well as lab research — have been stopped entirely because of the virus.

Dr Michael Head, study author, said all areas of health had been impacted and many had taken a backseat while research into Covid-19 steamed ahead.  

Charities working on cures and therapies for cancer and heart disease are likely to have been hard-hit by a fall in funding for research. But Dr Head warned that the smaller charities fuelling research for rare diseases that already have few treatments will find it hard to carry on at all.

‘Trusts and frontline staff are working flat out to restore and extend routine services, and we’re seeing encouraging signs that many are making good progress. It’s really important people seek help when they need it.’ 

Dr Nedjat-Shokouhi, who is also an NHS consultant, said those needing follow-up appointments might become less of a priority. He described them as ‘the most easy group to delay care for’ because there are not target wait times in place for them.

A spokesman for the NHS said: ‘This flawed and self-serving analysis from an organisation trying to advertise its own services says nothing about whether or not the appointments it refers to are actually “overdue”.

‘Now that hospitals have managed the first wave of coronavirus, treating more than 108,000 people for Covid-19, local health services are continuing to expand their services for routine care, alongside substantially enhanced capacity being contracted from the independent sector.’ 

Waiting lists for routine operations have also soared to record levels during the Covid-19 pandemic as a result of thousands of non-urgent operations being cancelled. 

Data revealed last month shows around 1.85million people have waited more than 18 weeks for routine treatment in England — the most since records began more than a decade ago. Under the health service’s own rulebook, patients should be treated within 18 weeks of a GP referral. 

Medical imaging and cancer screening appointments have also slumped during the pandemic, which is expected to have a knock-on effect. 

Experts fear 10million people may be waiting for treatment by Christmas as hospitals grapple with the resume of non-urgent care while maintaining social distancing. A potential second wave will cause even more chaos in the NHS. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson this month committed an extra £300million to upgrade A&E facilities at 117 NHS trusts, on top of £3billion to prepare the NHS for winter.

But Dr Nick Scriven, of the Society for Acute Medicine which represents hospital doctors, said ‘it will take more than a token cash injection to make up for years of neglect’.

MailOnline previously reported that the  number of NHS patients forced to wait longer than a year for routine treatment in London had become 20 times the figure for the whole of England in 2019.

Leaked performance data showed 19,775 patients in the capital were waiting longer than 12 months for procedures such as hip or knee ops by July 19. 

In contrast, only 1,032 people across the entire country had not started treatment within a year of being referred in July 2019. 

The shocking figures lay bare how Covid-19 has devastated the NHS, with warnings that the health service faces an ‘enormous’ challenge if it wants to catch-up. 

MailOnline previously reported that the number of NHS patients forced to wait longer than a year for routine treatment in London had become 20 times the figure for the whole of England in 2019

MailOnline previously reported that the number of NHS patients forced to wait longer than a year for routine treatment in London had become 20 times the figure for the whole of England in 2019 

Health bosses fear it could take up to four years to clear the growing backlog of patients needing treatment.

Doctors said the NHS is facing ‘worrying times’ in the wake of the pandemic and that ‘performance remains poor’ in hospitals around the country. 

The overall waiting list — at a record-high of 4.4million before the pandemic struck — was described as ticking time bomb.

Top medics have since warned it has detonated, with the decision to postpone tens of thousands of operations during the crisis causing backlog to grow. 

In response to the growing waiting times, Professor Neil Mortensen, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said in July: ‘We have been concerned since the start of this pandemic that suspending elective surgery for a period of months placed a time bomb under what was already a crisis in NHS waiting times.

‘That time bomb has now detonated, with the numbers of those waiting more than a year for treatment spiralling out of control to the worst levels since September 2009.

‘And the supposed legal right for patients to be treated within 18 weeks looks more like a vague aspiration, with two in five now waiting longer.’

It comes amid concerns about delays to cancer care caused by coronavirus, which has led medics to warn survival rates will plummet. 

Cancer treatment waiting times in England have soared to another record high. Only 93.7 per cent of patients in June were treated within a month of being told they needed drugs, surgery or radiotherapy. 

Separate data showed only 12.9 per cent of patients diagnosed with cancer after a screening appointment got treated within the target time of two months. For comparison, the rate was 85.8 per cent last June, and the target is 90 per cent. 

It is believed the NHS is preparing to spend up to £10billion outsourcing work to private hospitals who will take on some of the workload that has built up over the past few months.

The £10billion figure, over a four-year contract, emerged in a contract notice seen by the specialist publication Health Service Journal.  

Number of NHS patients admitted for routine ops drops 82 per cent in a year: The number of patients admitted plummeted to 54,550 in May this year, the lowest ever one record and a drop from 295,881 in May 2019

Number of NHS patients admitted for routine ops drops 82 per cent in a year: The number of patients admitted plummeted to 54,550 in May this year, the lowest ever one record and a drop from 295,881 in May 2019

NHS figures show that 106,535 urgent cancer referrals were made by GPs in England in May 2020, 47 per cent down from 200,599 in May 2019

NHS figures show that 106,535 urgent cancer referrals were made by GPs in England in May 2020, 47 per cent down from 200,599 in May 2019

5,000 HEART ATTACK SUFFERERS ‘MISSED OUT ON LIFE-SAVING CARE BECAUSE OF COVID-19’

Five-thousands heart attack sufferers in England missed out on life-saving hospital treatment due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a study claimed.

Researchers analysed NHS hospital data to show that around the peak of the crisis, in late March, admissions were 35 per cent lower than usual.

Up to a quarter of people who suffered the most severe heart attack — a complete blockage of an artery — did not seek help, figures suggest.

Admissions are now picking back up again because the coronavirus is fizzling out, according to researchers at the University of Oxford.

But patient confidence is nowhere near pre-Covid levels as Brits still fear catching the coronavirus if they go to hospital.

Experts warned the risk of death from delaying heart attack treatment is higher than picking up Covid-19 at hospital.

My hospital has become a medical Mary Celeste: As NHS waiting lists rocket while appointments are limited, one doctor tells of his frustration

By Dr Rod Hughes for the Daily Mail  

Last week I was sitting in glorious isolation in my consulting room at St Peter’s Hospital in Chertsey, Surrey, in what felt like a ghost town.

There was a deserted waiting room, and outside was a virtually empty car park. My only contact with patients was via the telephone on my desk. 

Along the corridor, the dermatology, ophthalmology and other outpatient consulting rooms also stood empty.

Normally, our joint waiting rooms are bustling — with around 100 patients at any one time waiting to see doctors, nurses, or a phlebotomist to take blood. Now there are no patients and just a handful of staff.

My only contact with patients was via the telephone on my desk. Along the corridor, the dermatology, ophthalmology and other outpatient consulting rooms also stood empty [File photo]

My only contact with patients was via the telephone on my desk. Along the corridor, the dermatology, ophthalmology and other outpatient consulting rooms also stood empty [File photo]

There have been just a few patients with Covid in the hospital in the last few weeks, compared with 20 in intensive care and 100 on the wards at the peak of the pandemic.

But we are at a near standstill when it comes to seeing outpatients on site. Much to my frustration, only one of my six NHS rheumatology clinics is conducted face-to-face each week. It is still deemed too risky for patients to attend hospital.

While phone consultations work for most patients, particularly those with stable conditions whom I’ve looked after for years, some people do need to be seen.

They include new patients who need examinations and a diagnosis, and those who need injections to manage existing conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Last week I was sitting in glorious isolation in my consulting room at St Peter’s Hospital in Chertsey, Surrey, in what felt like a ghost town. There was a deserted waiting room, and outside was a virtually empty car park. My only contact with patients was via the telephone on my desk. The hospital is seen above

Last week I was sitting in glorious isolation in my consulting room at St Peter’s Hospital in Chertsey, Surrey, in what felt like a ghost town. There was a deserted waiting room, and outside was a virtually empty car park. My only contact with patients was via the telephone on my desk. The hospital is seen above

I now only see eight patients in a Friday afternoon — roughly one every 30 minutes — instead of the usual 14. 

This is because the risk of infection from Covid patients meant we had to move from our large clinic in the main hospital to a ‘cold’ site (one free of Covid patients), which is under pressure as all specialities are using it.

I see fewer patients not because of the strict hygiene rules (people must have a temperature check before they enter the building, sit two metres apart in the waiting rooms, and wear a mask at all times — and I wear a mask, gloves and an apron when doing procedures), but because I have to prioritise seeing those who need procedures. Their appointments take longer.

When lockdown began, the other two consultants and two registrars had to halt their clinics to go on to the Covid rota for three months.

There is therefore now a backlog of 800 or so rheumatology patients waiting for follow-up appointments — and 300 needing new-patient appointments. Some new patients urgently need to be seen in person. 

For example, there is a 12-week window for treating rheumatoid arthritis patients most effectively. We used to see them in four to six weeks, but now it’s 12 to 14.

Meanwhile, our large outpatient clinic in the main hospital is empty, even though most consultants redeployed to Covid wards have now returned.

I heard there are more than 15,000 people on the ophthalmology waiting list alone.

People waiting for operations in orthopaedics and general surgery are now looking at a 26-week wait instead of the pre-Covid 16, too. 

During lockdown, I accepted all restrictions on seeing patients as necessary. But now I think it’s time to try to get back to normal.

I understand that management has to be wary about bringing large numbers back into hospital. But I do feel we could now see more outpatients and start getting back to running normal clinics.

Much to my frustration, only one of my six NHS rheumatology clinics is conducted face-to-face each week. It is still deemed too risky for patients to attend hospital [File photo]

Much to my frustration, only one of my six NHS rheumatology clinics is conducted face-to-face each week. It is still deemed too risky for patients to attend hospital [File photo]

Of course, some patients are worried about coming back to hospital. But there comes a point where we have to balance the risks of not being treated for a long time against the risk of Covid.

We’re caught in limbo, while more people suffer as their conditions worsen.

There doesn’t seem to be a master plan or encouragement from the Department of Health to get clinics up and running again — this is needed urgently.

The Government wants people to go back to work and eat out, so it makes no sense that they can’t also see their doctor in a setting with strict infection control.

I agree with the Royal College of Surgeons, which said earlier this month that if a second coronavirus wave hits, the NHS can’t go back to being a Covid-only service.

Telemedicine has worked well, but most people will eventually want to see their doctor face-to-face, and many will need to. I wish I wasn’t working in a medical version of the Mary Celeste.

Dr Rod Hughes is a consultant rheumatologist at St Peter’s Hospital in Surrey.

As told to JO WATERS

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