Doctors are warning the Government to implement measures to bring down Covid-19 infection rates or continue to see high levels of staff absences which are causing widespread frustration among surgeons and adding to growing NHS waiting lists.
The message from the BMA came as The Royal College of Surgeons of England vice-president made a plea to encourage everyone who is eligible to get a booster jab, ‘as we are not out of the woods yet from the pandemic’.
Mr Tim Mitchell
Consultant ENT surgeon Mr Tim Mitchell said: ‘We have heard from our surgeons that operations are being cancelled again in different parts of the country, due to patients testing positive for the virus and high numbers of staff being unable to come to work because they too have tested positive.
‘This is very distressing for patients who need an operation and it’s understandably frustrating for surgical teams who want to help their patients by getting planned surgery up and running again.’
Latest figures show the total number of people waiting for consultant-led NHS hospital treatment increased by 80,000 from 6.10m in January 2022 to 6.18m in February 2022.
The college has urged the Government to accept a workforce amendment to the Health and Care Bill to ease pressures on front-line NHS staff.
This would require the UK Government to publish, every three years, an independent assessment of workforce numbers for health and social care in England which looks ahead to the next five, ten and 15 years.
The bill has been accepted by the House of Lords and will now return to the House of Commons for a second time when MPs return from Easter recess.
Mr Mitchell said: ‘There are 110,000 vacancies in the NHS and this is adding pressures to an already overstretched workforce. We need to make sure there are enough staff now and in the future to meet patient demand and to tackle the backlog.
‘The best way for the Government to do this would be to accept the workforce amendment to the Health and Care Bill. It is backed by 100 organisations and the House of Lords.’
BMA council chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul said pressure levels were unprecedented, with pandemic cases recently hitting the highest level on record in England and resulting hospitalisations placing further demand on services. Almost 200,000 NHS staff were absent due to Covid-19 in just one week.
‘The Government must be honest about the scale of the challenge and realise that unless it puts in place measures to bring down soaring Covid infection rates, we will continue to see high levels of staff absences increasing the pressure on the NHS and jeopardising any hope of recovery in the foreseeable future.
‘There is no confidence among the medical profession in the Government’s ability to tackle the backlog.’
A BMA survey last week found only 1% of doctors had confidence in the Government’s plan to reduce the waiting lists for elective care, investigations, and procedures.