Number waiting for heart surgery could almost double pre-pandemic levels, charity warns

The number of patients waiting for heart surgery could almost reach double the number pre-pandemic, a charity has warned, amid growing concerns over the backlog of operations and procedures in the NHS.

File photo dated 03/10/14 of an NHS hospital ward. (PA/Peter Byrne)

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) said as many as 15,385 people in England will be awaiting a procedure by February next year, while those in need of general cardiology care could rise to more than half a million by early 2024.

The stark picture comes amid warnings that waiting lists across the NHS in England could top 14m by next autumn, as millions of patients who did not receive care during the pandemic need treatment.

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Waiting lists for routine hip replacement surgeries at Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust have increased by more than a third from 201 to 269 in the two years between May 2019 and May 2021, data suggests.

The BHF have called on the Government to “act now” as the NHS faces a difficult winter ahead.

Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, the charity’s medical director said: “Even before the pandemic began, waiting lists for vital heart care were far too long. As this report shows, the pandemic has since pushed the NHS towards breaking point, with devastating consequences for the 7.6 million people living with heart and circulatory diseases in the UK.

“Delay in diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular diseases is not just about improving symptoms, however important that is – it is about saving lives.

“Tragically, we have already seen thousands of extra deaths from heart and circulatory diseases during the pandemic, and delays to care have likely contributed to this terrible toll. At this critical moment, the Government must act now to avoid more lives lost to treatable heart conditions. Addressing the growing heart care backlog is only the start.”

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) warned that so-called “missing” patients coming forward for treatment could mean that waiting lists reach 14m by next year.

It said: “In our first scenario, 80 per cent of the approximately seven million ‘missing’ patients return over the next year, the NHS operates at 90 per cent of its 2019 capacity this year and next, and then at 100 per cent capacity from 2023 onwards. Under this scenario, waiting lists would soar to 14m by autumn 2022 and then continue to climb, as the number joining the waiting list exceeds the number being treated.”

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “The NHS has faced huge challenges over the past year due to Covid-19 and we continue to support our incredible health and care staff who have kept services open for thousands of patients. This includes dedicated investment of £1bn this year to tackle the backlog and reduce waiting lists.”