The Covid-19 pandemic led to unprecedented healthcare disruption across the UK. In England, the number of patient referrals waiting to be treated in hospital was more than 7·2 million at the end of October, 2022. In response, the UK Government set up an elective recovery taskforce (ERT) in December, 2022, to help NHS England tackle this backlog. Ahmar Shah and colleagues estimated the extent of healthcare disruption during the Covid-19 pandemic to aid decision making regarding the necessary capacity increases that are required to address the ensuing backlog.
The study, published in The Lancet, found NHS waiting list for elective treatment increased between 1 Jan 2012, and the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, suggesting a gradual service decline. The waiting list then substantially increased during the pandemic, but this substantial increase is likely to represent a substantial underestimation of the backlog because of the anticipated large numbers of people who have still not come forward for care. Even if the ambitious target of 30% increase in capacity is achieved during the next 3 years, several years (beyond the end of 2025) will be needed for the backlog to clear. This study emphasises the need to improve health-care system resilience to ensure that the effects of any future emergencies on the provision of routine care are minimised.