It is going to take “many years” to tackle waiting lists which are now longer than they have been for about 20 years, the NHS Confederation chief executive has said.
Danny Mortimer said that once the impacts of the spike of Covid-19 in January and February are understood, waiting lists are “still going to be significantly higher than we have seen for a very, very long time”.
There are 4.52 million people who are now on the list, with 224,000 of those waiting longer than 52 weeks, and “a big plan” will be needed to help tackle the issue, according to Professor Neil Mortensen, president of the Royal College of Surgeons.
Mr Mortimer told Times Radio that honesty from both politicians and the NHS with the public about the scale of the task will be “really, really important”.
Efforts will be needed to “explain as clearly as we can what is going to happen and what sort of choices are being made, and sadly how long it is going to take for us to get back to where we desperately want to be”, he said.
I think surgeons are very prepared to be flexible. I think there needs to be more operating time. There needs to be more opening hours for surgery and surgery hubsProf Neil Mortensen, Royal College of Surgeons
Mr Mortimer told the programme: “We do need that investment in facilities, investment in people, and we also need to understand that there are competing pressures because of the virus, because of the impact we have seen on people’s mental health that we are going to have to deal with for the longer term.
“There is also the continued reality of the vaccination programme as well – all of those things need investment from the Government.”
Surgeons face a lack of access to theatres and the staff who work there, including anaesthetists, are very tired.
Prof Mortensen, who described waiting lists as an “absolutely massive problem”, told Times Radio: “I think surgeons are very prepared to be flexible. I think there needs to be more operating time. There needs to be more opening hours for surgery and surgery hubs.
“We have already done well with remote outpatient appointments, with patients not having to come to hospital for assessment and follow-up, but staff are tired and need a pause, particularly for surgery we need the help of our friendly anaesthetists.”
He added: “We can’t really do anything without having a really good theatre team.”