Following the events of 2020 it will be of no surprise to anyone that patients are facing delays in accessing hospital treatment. What is concerning is the level to which Covid-19 has impacted upon an already overstretched NHS.

The number of people waiting for over a year for treatment is at its highest level since 2008 with nearly 140,000 left without access to treatment. There are currently 4.35 million people waiting for treatment, all of which should be seen within 18 weeks. The cumulative effect of Covid-19 pulling resources elsewhere throughout 2020 has led to this worrying high.

Often a bad time of year for hospitals with winter illnesses, this together with the well documented recent increase in Covid-19 infections and hospitalisations mean the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better. There is also the concern that a combination of NHS staff absences due to the pandemic, and around 40,000 registered nursing vacancies unfulfilled in England will put too much strain on hospitals.

Many hospitals across the country including Bradford, Leeds, Nottingham, Birmingham and Liverpool have announced the mass cancellation of non-urgent work. Where hospitals have not cancelled non-urgent work they appear to remain on standby to do so as infection rates rise. There are reports of many hospitals facing higher Covid-19 admissions during this second wave than at the height of the first wave earlier in the year.

Professor John Appleby, director of research at health think tank the Nuffield Trust, said the situation was a "real concern". Hospitals were facing a real battle to keep non-Covid services going, he said, pointing out the number of Covid patients in hospital had risen from just over 2,000 to more than 10,000 since the end of September.

For those who have yet to embark on hospital treatment for non-Covid matters they face a worrying time ahead. Some procedures may not be time critical but others may have a life changing impact. A delay in commencing cancer treatment for example can have a catastrophic effect and lead to an uncertain future.

During April to September this year 300,000 fewer people saw cancer specialists compared to the same time last year, the numbers starting cancer treatment were down by a fifth. Whilst numbers started to recover to pre-pandemic levels by the end of summer, the next few months will no doubt impact care and access to treatment once more.

Tracey Loftis, of the charity Versus Arthritis, said the situation was "appalling" and added "the consequences of these further delays will reverberate for years to come."

Chris Hopson, of NHS Providers, has sought to reassure people that the NHS are doing the best they can under such challenging circumstances.

He said "We are keenly aware of the inconvenience, anxiety and distress for patients caused by any delays for diagnostic tests, treatment or consultations," he added.

Whilst many will be wary to attend their GP or hospital for treatment during these uncertain times, the NHS are keen to remain open to all and an NHS England spokeswoman advised: "The NHS message to the public has always been clear - do not delay, help us to help you by coming forward for care."

Although we are, for the time being, not able to meet clients in person, our specialist clinical negligence team at Freeths is here to support and advise clients. We are available for meetings and consultations via telephone, email, FaceTime, WhatsApp, Skype and any other digital platform that works for you.

Please contact a member of our national team for a free, confidential discussion:-

Karen Reynolds, Partner (Derby/Stoke on Trent/Birmingham/Manchester/Liverpool) on 0845 274 6830

Carolyn Lowe, Partner (Oxford/London/Bristol/Milton Keynes) on 0186 578 1019

 Jane Williams, Partner (Nottingham/Leicester/Sheffield/Leeds) on 0845 272 5724

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