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Fears of 'two-tier' system as NHS waiting lists prompt more people to go private

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Concerns are growing that long NHS waiting times caused by the coronavirus crisis are exacerbating pre-existing health inequalities and creating a “two-tier” system, as more people turn to the private sector for quicker treatment.

As leading doctors warn mass cancellations of NHS operations in England are inevitable this winter after waiting times reached the highest levels on record this summer, data shows a rise in the number of people self-funding treatment or investing in private health insurance.

“COVID-19 has not impacted everyone equally, and there is clearly a risk that the backlog in routine hospital treatment is going to add to those inequalities if some people are able to get treatment faster because they’re able to pay,” said Tim Gardner, from the Health Foundation thinktank.

As the NHS heads into winter and a growing second wave of the virus, experts stressed the need to help those affected by the backlog now.

“There is a need to prioritise the most urgent cases, but simply because someone’s case isn’t urgent doesn’t mean it’s not important. It doesn’t mean that people aren’t waiting in pain and discomfort, or waiting anxiously for a diagnosis,” said Gardner.

“We think it’s incumbent on the health service to make the best possible use of the capacity it’s got. But also it needs to make sure it’s supporting people while they’re waiting. We just can’t have people left in limbo.”

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Source: The Guardian, 27 October 2020

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