The 10 Million NHS Waiting List Timebomb

The 10 Million NHS Waiting List Timebomb

Health executives in England have said that the coronavirus pandemic could result in up to 10 million patients (one in six of us) waiting for NHS treatment by the end of the year — that is DOUBLE the number that are currently waiting.

According to recent projections by the NHS Confederation, the number of people on NHS waiting lists is expected to rise from 4.2 million to almost 10 million by the end of the year. This, even though the projection also assumes the health service will make a steady return to full capacity within the next 12 months.

Formerly the National Association of Health Authorities and Trusts, the NHS Confederation is a membership body for organisations that commission and provide NHS services. It says that a backlog of cases, the need to maintain social distancing and staffing levels will all contribute to the large rise in people waiting.

Precautions put in place to combat the spread of COVID-19 are forcing hospitals to redesign buildings and remove beds to keep patients safe as they restart routine services. Furthermore, steps to minimise infections mean only half the usual normal number of operations per day can be carried out.

Current Capacity

The NHS Confederation says that healthcare services are currently operating at around 60% capacity because of infection control measures associated with the coronavirus pandemic. To help it cope, NHS England previously signed a nationwide contract with private healthcare companies to allow it to benefit from beds, equipment and staff until at least next March. Whether this deal will be extended beyond its original date is currently under discussion.

All of this comes as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently announced further easing of lockdown restrictions in England. Under the eased plans, zoos and drive-in cinemas are amongst the businesses being allowed to open from Monday 15 June.

However, health leaders have warned the public not to expect a resumption of full NHS services for many months. While some cardiology services have restarted in England recently, the British Heart Foundation warns of a backlog of procedures, with an estimated 28,000 patients having seen their treatment delayed since the start of the coronavirus outbreak.


Meanwhile, some cancer services are also starting to reopen. However, Cancer Research UK estimates that about 2.4 million people are currently awaiting screening, treatment or tests, with a potential 23,000 cancers having gone undiagnosed during lockdown.

The charity added that care was currently being delivered by “exhausted and traumatised staff”. To make the situation worse, it still remains unknown whether the UK will experience a second wave of coronavirus infections. Obviously, a raft of new infections would inevitably put already struggling health services under even more pressure and could further increase NHS wait times.

The NHS & Private healthcare

As phase 1 of the NHS and Private Sector deal approaches its end, we are unclear what phase 2 of the deal will look like. It will undoubtedly see access to private treatment return to more normal conditions, and with some commentators expecting NHS waiting lists to reach up to 4 years in some instances, having private medical insurance is sure to prove more beneficial than ever over the coming months and years.

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