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'A truly frightening backlog': ex-NHS chief warns of delays in vital care

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Patients could be waiting as much as two years for vital operations by the time of the next election due to a “truly frightening” backlog of care caused by the pandemic, the NHS’s former boss has said.

Lengthening delays in getting treatment in England are will become a major political problem for Boris Johnson and pose a risk to patients’ health, Sir David Nicholson told the Guardian.

“The backlog is truly frightening. We can very easily get to the next election with people waiting over two years. It’s easy to do that,” said Nicholson, citing an explosion in the number of people waiting at least a year since the start of the COVID-19 crisis.

“The whole issue of access [to care] is a greater threat to the NHS than privatisation because poor access undermines confidence amongst those people who fund the service – taxpayers,” he added.

The widespread suspension of normal NHS diagnostic tests and surgery during the pandemic as hospitals prioritised Covid care has left the service in England with a record 4.59 million people waiting for hospital treatment.

That number is set to rise to what the NHS Confederation believes could be as much as 6.9m cases by the end of the year as people on a “hidden waiting list” – who put off seeking help after discovering symptoms of illness – finally visit a GP.

According to the most recent figures, the number of people who have been waiting for at least a year has rocketed from 1,613 before the pandemic struck to 304,044.

Under the NHS Constitution, 92% of people waiting are meant to be treated within 18 weeks. However, a third of the 4.59 million people have already waited longer than that.

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Source: The Guardian, 2 April 2021

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