The NHS is a beacon of hope for millions of people all over the UK, offering affordable or free healthcare to those who need it most. But it’s no secret that NHS waiting times can be agonisingly long, especially for patients in pain or with conditions that impact their quality of life.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, frontline workers heroically stepped forward to treat an ever-growing number of patients, and we were proud to partner with NHS England to make beds, facilities and healthcare staff available to treat patients.
But the impact of COVID-19 on NHS waiting times has been huge, and a long backlog of procedures is set to take years to clear.
Just how big is the NHS waiting list?
In September, the media reported that 5.6 million people in England are waiting for hospital treatment, up from 4.4 million in February 2020. This marks the highest number since records began in 2007, but it’s not just the number of people waiting that’s rising.
NHS waiting times continue to be an issue, with the latest figures showing that 1.8 million people waiting for care in July had already been waiting for at least 18 months, and 7,980 had been waiting for more than two years, including for treatments such as joint replacement and gallbladder removal.
It’s a far cry from the standards set out in the NHS 18-week pathway, whereupon a hospital receiving a written referral from a GP should either admit a patient for non-urgent surgery within 18-weeks, or let them know that they do not need hospital treatment for their condition.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid has warned that the backlog will “get a lot worse before it gets better”, but what does “a lot worse” look like?
According to officials, the backlog could grow to an astonishing 13 million! However, there is hope. Amongst The Government’s plans to tackle the ever-growing list of patients are: paying private healthcare providers to administer treatment, and continuing to hold virtual doctors’ appointments. Sir Simon Stevens, the previous NHS England Chief Executive, has also suggested that the backlog could be cleared within the next two-and-a-half to three years — should the NHS be provided with the right resources.
Why is the NHS waiting list so high?
We know that the NHS waiting list has skyrocketed to unprecedented levels, but why is this?
Of course, the global pandemic is a major contributor. As many as 4,134 people were admitted to hospital with COVID-19 in a single day during the January 2021 wave, and the shortage of NHS staff has only been compounded by the need for many frontline workers to self-isolate.
In July, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust was one of several hospitals forced to call off planned non-urgent operations to help it cope with an influx of patients seriously ill with the virus.
However, it isn’t just COVID-19 affecting the backlog — and the long waiting times that come with it. Even for common treatments such as eye, hip or knee surgery, patients are left playing a postcode lottery that highlights how those living in more deprived areas are being disproportionately affected by long waiting times.
For example, in North East London, 21,729 people are waiting for a new hip or knee. Just 16 miles away, in North West London, that number drops to 16,754. Further away in Knowsley, Merseyside, just 1,514 patients are waiting for a new hip or knee.
Areas badly hit by COVID-19 certainly face larger queues and longer waiting times, but factors such as deprivation, age, and population size also come into play.
Regardless of the cause, what’s important is that thousands of patients have been left in pain and discomfort for months — even years — whilst waiting for operations that are readily available, sometimes just a few miles away.
It begs the question, how long is too long?
If you’re stuck on an NHS waiting list, what can you do about it?
With NHS waiting lists showing little sign of improving any time soon, more people are opting for private healthcare. The obvious benefit of going private is immediate treatment — when you request an appointment, we’ll confirm your spot within one working day. We can also offer same-day appointments for urgent cases, and just days after your initial consultation, you could be admitted for your operation and be on the road to recovery.
What about COVID-19?
Understandably, many people have been worried about going to hospital for fear of being exposed to the Coronavirus. Even if you were offered an appointment after a long wait, you might have chosen to delay treatment or diagnosis.
St John & St Elizabeth Hospital has been recognised as a COVID-19 green zone hospital by Bupa. This means we are compliant with UK guidance on infection, prevention and control standards. We also have COVID-19 prevention methods in place, such as only allowing the person who has booked the appointment to enter our building.
When you book an appointment, we’ll screen you for any COVID-19 symptoms. We temperature-check all of our patients at the door, practice social distancing and wear masks.
These measures offer our patients and staff peace of mind, knowing that they are in the safest environment possible.
If you have health insurance, your insurance provider may cover the cost of treatment — or significantly reduce the amount you have to pay. We always advise contacting your provider first, to check what your plan covers. In most cases, you will need to pay an excess, but if your employer offers private health insurance, they will often pay it for you. After all, it’s in their best interest that their employees are fit, safe and healthy!
If you have health insurance, but don’t have a GP referral, you can choose to self-refer. However, your insurer may not authorise payment, so we recommend either contacting your insurance provider for confirmation or calling your GP and asking them to refer you.
Mixing and matching
Today, cost is a more important consideration than ever.
To reduce the amount they have to pay, some of our patients mix and match — for example, getting their diagnostics done via the NHS and their treatment by St John & St Elizabeth Hospital. Similarly, you could decide to have private surgery and then see an NHS physiotherapist during your recovery.
This way, private healthcare becomes more affordable and accessible whilst reducing the time you’d have to wait had you decided to have treatment solely via the NHS.
Going private puts you back in charge of your health. You can choose what treatment you have, where and when you have it, and who you are treated by. When picking the right private hospital for you, take a look at what you’re going to get. For example, at our Hospital, you’ll not only receive the highest level of care from leading consultants, but you’ll also stay in a luxurious private room in a stunning location.
More people are prioritising their health by getting the treatment they require at a private hospital and, in doing so, are helping to reduce NHS waiting times during a time when it’s never been more desperately needed.
If you’re frustrated by long NHS waiting times, you can book a private appointment with the best consultant for your needs by filling in the form below or calling 020 7806 4000.