Surgeons have warned the Government that waiting lists will continue to grow without investment in surgical hubs and staff.
The Royal College of Surgeons of England said a ‘volatile mix’ of pressures is affecting the recovery of surgery.
These include high demand in A&E departments, 5,000 patients in hospital with Covid-19 and staff absences due to isolation and delayed annual leave. All these result in increased waiting times for planned operations.
Latest figures show the NHS waiting list has now hit 5.45m and commentators warn this could double in a year if action is not taken.
In June, over 5,700 patients had been waiting more than two years for treatment. This is a 46% increase on the previous month (3,927 patients were waiting more than two years for treatment in May 2021).
The longest waits are for hip and knee replacements, gallbladder removals and hernia operations.
Prof Neil Mortensen
College president Prof Neil Mortensen said: ‘The summer is traditionally a quieter time for the NHS, so surgeons had hoped we could catch up on the huge backlog of operations postponed because of Covid-19.
‘However, this summer, the pressure on emergency departments hasn’t let up. A volatile mix of pressures is hindering the surgical recovery.
‘With more than 5,000 people in hospital with Covid-19, there is still too much pressure on hospital beds, because these patients must be kept separate and distanced from others.
‘Along with staff shortages caused by the app pinging people, it’s been incredibly difficult for some places to get back to pre-pandemic levels of operating.
‘Areas with surgical hubs have fared better, so we need more investment in this model and in the staff to support it.
‘Waiting lists will continue to grow without significant investment in a more sustainable system, adapted to a country where the virus remains endemic.’
The Institute for Fiscal Studies has predicted waiting lists could grow to 14m by next autumn.
But Prof Mortensen said this could not be allowed to happen. ‘We need a new deal for surgery to restore timely treatment for patients,’ he said.