Increased pressures on the NHS because of Covid-19 could cause a “dangerous, ever-increasing backlog” of vital heart surgery and cancer treatment after delays this year which are already thought to have cost lives.
Tens of thousands of people across Yorkshire will also “face a bleak winter left waiting in excruciating pain” unless the government acts now to tackle waiting times for non-Covid treatment, it is feared.
Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, said the response to the pandemic earlier this year had come at a “heavy cost” to many non-Covid patients who have been left waiting for treatment.
She said: “There is every reason to be concerned about how patients will fare over the coming winter. Even without Covid-19, the long-term under-resourcing of the NHS would have meant serious problems in hospitals this winter. In areas where Covid-19 infection rates are high, the NHS is going to be extremely stretched, and serious consequences for some patients are very likely, whether they need treatment for coronavirus or something else.”
Liam O’Toole, chief executive of Versus Arthritis, said he was concerned about the half a million people in the UK waiting for “life-changing” orthopaedics surgery, such as knee and hip replacements.
“Tens of thousands of people in the North East and Yorkshire face a bleak winter left waiting in excruciating pain and their health deteriorating.”
He called for credible plans to bring down waiting times safely.
It is a similar situation for heart patients who have “undoubtedly suffered”, according to Barbara Kobson, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, which found that in one week during the peak there were more than 700 additional deaths in the UK from heart and circulatory diseases, including 300 from coronary heart disease and 200 from stroke.
She said delays could cause a huge rise in serious problems like heart failure, which could cause deaths.
“It is vital that, going forward, patients access not only emergency but also planned cardiovascular healthcare. Without the availability of these heart services we will face a dangerous, ever-increasing backlog.”
Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive of Breast Cancer Now, said the pandemic had led to many people’s breast cancer treatment being delayed and there had been “a worrying drop” in the number of people being referred to a cancer specialist.
She said women could be “missing the best possible chance of early diagnosis, which we know is key to preventing deaths”.
“It is clear there is an urgent need for more to be done to tackle the major impacts that the Covid-19 pandemic continues to have on early diagnosis of breast cancer and starting treatment.
“Right now, we also know that pent-up demand for diagnostics and imaging threatens to overwhelm a workforce that was stretched pre-pandemic, and is trying to cope with the significant backlog of women waiting for breast screening. This is why we are urgently calling on the Government and NHS England to set out how the influx in demand for these services will be met.”
Mental health services were also under pressure, with Vicki Nash, head of policy and campaigns at Mind, urging people not to forget the "hidden pandemic" of mental health issues.
She said: “The government must make urgent changes, so that people with a mental health problem are not forgotten. They must invest urgently in community services, to ensure that fewer people reach crisis stage or are left to languish on waiting lists that were already unacceptably long before the pandemic.”