Surgeons’ president calls for continued NHS contracts with independent sector

The Royal College of Surgeons of England (RCS) has called on the Government to agree a ‘robust plan’ to address a ‘double-whammy backlog’ both of patients presently on the waiting list and those who have not yet been referred into the system.

The college’s plea followed news that 1.16m more referrals were made in April 2019 than in the same month this year.

Prof Derek Alderson

RCS president Prof Derek Alderson said: ‘It is going to be a Herculean task to get through what we believe is a double whammy backlog. There are those on the list already and then thousands of patients who will come forward and be added to the list when the pandemic begins to abate.

‘That means we need Government support to keep as much capacity as possible in the NHS, including by continuing to have public contracts with the independent sector so that patients are seen because they need treatment, not because they can pay.’

He paid tribute to the NHS which had coped ‘incredibly well’ with the immediate Covid crisis, but said to do so it had to hollow out its routine, but essential, work to keep people well.

Left waiting

NHS England figures show 239,088 fewer ‘admitted pathways’ were completed in the NHS in April 2020 than in the same month last year – a drop of 85%, demonstrating that hundreds of thousands of people have been left waiting for treatment while the NHS responds to Covid-19.

Its waiting time statistics show:

 The percentage of patients seen within 18 weeks has dropped again from 79.7% in March 2020 to 71.3% in April 2020. This is the lowest proportion since April 2008.

 The number of patients waiting over 18 weeks has now risen above 1 million. It was 1,132,602 in April – up from 860,309 in March – which is the highest number since January 2008. 

 Patients waiting more than six months increased by 45% from 359,716 in March 2020 to 521,951 in April 2020.

 Patients waiting more than nine months increased by 73% from 69,807 in March 2020 to 120,423 in April 2020.

 Patients waiting over 52 weeks increased by 256% from 3,097 in March 2020 to 11,042 in April 2020.

The RCS said an urgent commitment to maintaining additional capacity in the independent sector, keeping the Nightingale hospitals open and reforming working practices to make best use of operating theatres were all necessary if the system was to create enough ‘Covid-light’ facilities where patients can be treated safely.